Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Snowy Bear Weekend with Ham and Crocus

It's been a fun weekend. Saturday, we hosted four bears for dinner. I served baked ham with prickly pear glaze, rice pilaf with golden raisins and apricots, steamed asparagus and sun-dried tomato foccacia. Michael L. brought squash and John brought the makings of banana splits for dessert.

John with a mystery bear. Any guesses who's behind the mask?
The mask itself is a bear tea cozy. How gay is that?

Last night it snowed. We got about 5 inches of very heavy, wet snow- apparently this year March has decided to go out like a lion.

Pretty, isn't it? Bu early afternoon, the sun was out. This late in the season, the melting was rapid. There's still plenty of snow on the ground, but it won't last long. By late afternoon, signs of spring were again becoming visible.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Waking for a Drink in the Middle of the Night

We're thirsty! We need a drink of water!

Goodness, it seems like you just went to bed.
OK, you can have your drink. Here, Robin will put you on some wet filter paper.
Drink up.

Now get onto your yurts and go back to sleep.

Sleep tight. Have pleasant dreams about becoming a butterfly.
We'll wake you in a few weeks for breakfast.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Osage + Weekend

Raking seed into recently burned prairie

It's been a really beautiful early spring weekend her in the Midwest. Both days were sunny and in the 60s. Yesterday was a fen workday. Most of the day's activities involved raking seed into the newly burned areas. We got almost all of the year's seed down yesterday.

L-R: Dave, Katie, and Doug

A real treat this weekend was getting to meet another blogger. Dave of Osage + Orange showed up with his friend Katie. He's the only other Chicago-area ecological restoration blogger that I know. I'm surprised that it has taken us this long to finally meet in person. He's a great guy and I really enjoyed meeting both of them.

Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)
Today we went back out to the Fen to take a better look at the extent of Tuesday's burn. This was the most intense prairie fire that we've had in nearly a decade. We did a lot this time around to tip the balance from invasive vegetation to native prairie. As a bonus, I got to see an Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma) sipping sap oozing from a box elder stump.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Media Madness

I got up at 3:45 this morning to come into work and put in a brief appearance on the Channel 2 Morning News. Video clip here. Yep, I got up in the middle of the might to get upstaged by a rat.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

John the Baptist Bread

Bug Girl is in a pickle. She can't find her copy of Entertaining with Insects, and needs to do just that over the weekend. Mark and Rodger gave me my very own copy for Christmas last year. As I am always eager to help a damselfly in distress, here is the recipe she wants. It's named for John the Baptist's reported diet of locusts and wild honey (though I'm at least partly persuaded by the camp that believes that he was eating carob, the pods of a type of locust tree).


2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup honey
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 Tblsp vegetable oil
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup dry roasted crickets

Grease and flour a loaf pan (9 x 5 x 3 inches). Add all ingredients except crckets in a large mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed for about 1/2 minute or until smooth. Add crickets and stir until well mixed. , then pour into the pan. Bake at 350° 40-55 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the bread. Slice while hot. Serve with sweet butter a l'orange.

Sweet Butter a l'orange

1/2 lb. sweet butter, softened
2 Tblsp. grated orange rind (For an added touch, soak the rind in your favorite cordial)

Mix with fork, place in serving dish and refrigerate.

Dry Roasted Crickets

Spread fresh, frozen and cleaned crickets on paper towels on a cookie sheet. Bake at 200° for 1-2 hours until desired state of dryness is reached. Check state of dryness by attempting to crush the crickets with a spoon.

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More Signs of Spring

Through much of last weekend, sandhill cranes filled the skies on their northward migration up to Wisconsin. A friend once aptly compared their bugling calls to the sound of a Canada goose trying to warble.

The first crocus of the year have appeared outside of my window.

A jumping spider showed up on my breezeway. And the weather has been getting warmer and warmer. Tuesday was gorgeous- sunny, breezy and in the mid 70s. This weather invited another sign of spring- the annual prescribed burns on our prairies, woodlands and wetlands, including Bluff Spring Fen.

The Fen adjoins a cemetery. There was a burial on Tuesday morning, so we started in a remote corner of woodland in order to avoid disturbing the funeral. This is a section where the herbaceous layer has been coming back well following seeding. Because it's remote, it often goes unburned and we were starting to lose the progress we had made. It burned reasonably well, and I'm very glad that we got to it this year.

Did I mention it was breezy? The up side is that things burned extremely well this year. The down side is that this was the most physically demanding burn that I have ever participated in. It's now two days later and I can still feel the effects of the exertion. I was on flapper duty. In the photo immediately above, you can see Stuart (tan shirt) holding a flapper. It's a square of rubber on the end of a wooden rake handle. You flap it onto the flames to help confine the fire to the areas that you want burned. The breeze made the fire reluctant to die down when flapped. We worked very hard all day long, and I did little photography as a result.

Later in the afternoon, Rick (far right) ordered pizza- which was delivered right to the cemetery. It gives a whole new meaning to the Tombstone Pizza brand. What do you want on your Tombstone?

It was a good burn. It was wonderful to get to spend such a beautiful day outdoors in natural surroundings rather than at the office. Still, I'm glad it's over.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy St. Urho's Day

No, not St. UrSpo's Day (I know UrSpo. The man is no saint), St. Urho's Day. St. Urho, he who drove the scourge of grasshoppers out of Finland, thus sparing the Finnish wine harvest. St, Urho is the reason that I will never write my long dreamed of Field Guide to the Oedipodinae of Finland.

Celebrate by wearing royal purple and nile green! Alas, my nile green tie is at the cleaners, but I am wearing my royal purple shirt. I welcome any holiday that can be celebrated with wine and wearing purple.

Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!

Hat Tip to Bug Girl.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Nature Book Lovers Meme

I was tagged for a meme by ARJ at Science on Tap some time ago, and didn't even realize it until recently. The meme is simple:

Increasingly our daily lives are bound by a man-made technological world, yet most believe it important to maintain a connection to the natural world. Cite a half-dozen-or-so books you would recommend every young person read by the end of their school years to help them maintain a sense of connection to, and value in, the natural world.

I'll try for books that would be appropriate for folks at different stages of their educations.

1. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

This story of wilderness, survival and growing up was the first book I ever read that would qualify as nature writing. I wanted to be Sam and to understand the natural world as closely as he did.

2. Wild Animals I have Known by Ernest Thompson Seton

I wondered if people still read this when I looked it up on Amazon. I'm delighted to see that they do. My favorite entry was SIlverspot, The Story of a Crow.

3. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold.

We all need the fierce green fire.

4. My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir.

How did I get through the first 49 years of my life without reading this? I wish I had been exposed to the lyrical beauty of Muir's writing when I was still in school. Guilty admission: Thoreau has never really done it for me. Muir is awesome.

5. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin.

Because it changed everything.

6. My last entry is not a particular book at all. I would recommend getting, reading, and re-reading a field guide to some branch of the natural world. It doesn't matter which one. Don't just use it to look up new or interesting species that you have found. Read it. Look at the pictures. Get to know even those species that aren't from your part of the country. Think about which species you would like to encounter some day. If you have not previously done this sort of thing, I can guarantee that you will see the world a bit differently after the exercise than you did before.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

First Butterflies

I haven't seen any yet, but we had several folks at last Saturday's butterfly monitoring workshop report seeing mourning cloaks and eastern commas. In a case of very good timing, the latest edition of Chicago Wilderness Magazine has just appeared with an article by yours truly discussing early spring appearances by these very species.

Even though I haven't seen any butterflies here, I feel like I'm getting a taste of the early spring insect season. I just watched a sphinx moth attracted to the lights at my dining room window. It's hard to believe that tomorrow night the temperature is supposed to go down to 11°.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Soup for a Dreary Weekend

I have been very busy this past week, hence my very light blogging. Yesterday was the butterfly monitoring workshop. More about that in another post. The whole weekend has been dreary. It's been very dark and gray with lots of rain. We're having a thunderstorm right now. At least it sn't snowing. It's perfect soup weather. Let's make cream of mushroom and roasted red peper soup.

I've found that it's much easier to get the skin off of roasted red peppers if you char them until the skins are really, really black. This doesn't harm the flesh underneath, and gives it a nce flavor. Once the skins are blackened, I put the peppers in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let them sit for 10 minutes. Then I take the skins off under cold running water.

Next I sautée a coarsly chopped onion and some diced garlic in olive oil. The soup gets a better flavor and color if I do the onions first, and let them get nice and browned.When the onions are almost done, I add the garlic and continue just until it's nice and fragrant. Then I quench it with some dry white wine. I bring the wine to a gentle boil, stirring to bring up the browned bits off of the bottom of the pot. I add chicken stock. This time around I used turkey stock that was still in the freezer after Thanksgiving. A very tasty vegetarian version of this soup uses vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.

A couple of Portobello mushrooms and the chopped roasted red peppers go into the soup. It gets covered and sits on a low simmer. I let this one putter along for most of the afternoon.

I don't have a photo of me using my new toy. I puree the entire soup with the new hand-held blender that I got for Chirstmas. The entire puree then gets put through a sieve. The result is a beautiful rich brown soup stock. The residue that gets left behind is a great base for mushroom pâté. If you stop at this point, this soup freezes very well. I next add a couple of chopped mushrooms and a chopped roasted red pepper. The next time I make this soup, I'd also like to add a handful of pearl barley at this point. This soup is so full of great vegetables that it's really good for you.

Or not. I suppose it would make a fine soup without the heavy cream, but it wouldn't taste nearly as good. It's a great way to warm up during cold, dismal weather.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Carnival of the Arid

Carnival of the Arid #2 is up at the Coyote Crossing blog. Check out everyone's offerings of desert love for March.

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