Saturday, March 28, 2015

Harbor seal darlings

Got inspired recently by one of my local dive buddies, Greg Amptman, who had a great encounter after a dive with some harbor seals... and it turned my opinion around on them totally. 

Check out my video to see why:

I was trying to find a good way to access Children's Pool from the ocean since the entire beach is closed to humans through May due to breeding season. You can enter at Casa beach, but the tide better be calm or you're going to get shredded making your way around the rocks and into the cove.

I settled on Shell Beach. It's very rocky and also has the potential to tear you up on rocks, but for me once you're in, it seems less risky to actually get to prime spots. In fact, a lot of spear fishermen enter here since the area to the north is off limits as the protected Marine Reserve. This is one such fisherman making the seagulls' day by cleaning his catch on shore.

These harbor seals are the ones most likely to nibble your fins and mess with you when you're ending a Cove dive and making the hard swim back in to shore, which is just when you have the least patience for their antics!

I've always vastly preferred hanging with the sea lions, which I've felt are more predictable and - unless it's a male during breeding season - less likely to pester you when you're lumbering around at their mercy with all your dive gear on... an interloper in their world.

That all changed on this solo dive. It's so exciting when you have a positive new animal encounter and feel that you've not only made a new kind of friend, but discovered the treasures of a whole new species you didn't even know existed. How had I doubted how delightful harbor seals could be? These babes (and their mothers) really turned me around.

Free-diving fun ~ this dive is definitely easier if you don't have a big tank and weights to haul around!

We even brought the kids back for a great low-tide exploration.

The clarity of the water on this day was stunning ~

I hope you enjoyed these little nuggets as much as I did...

... and I hope to bring you more stunning footage of them soon!

Thanks for looking :)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Baby hunter | Junior pheasant hunt in Campo

My 10 y/o girl - who asked for a .22 rifle for her birthday last year - really likes to shoot her Scout, and also .22 pistols... but she was never a fan of the shotgun. In fact, here she is at a shotgun clinic last summer, rolling her eyes at the praise her brother was getting (hah!):

And she wasn't sure she wanted to hunt yet. So I signed her up for the Junior Pheasant Hunt in Campo this spring (you only get to do it once) with the notion that she could at least enjoy all the other activities and bow out of the hunt if she wanted. But she surprised herself (and me!) when she bagged not only one pheasant ~ she bagged two.

We got up super early and rode out to this beautiful spot just past Buckman Springs near Lake Morena. I know it never rains in San Diego and really never rains in the desert, but it rained All. Day. Long.

Despite the rain, the kids learned many things at various educational stations onsite. Here, they learned how to build and use a quail caller, and Willa won a pocket knife for making the best one!

Next, the kids were instructed on bird dogs - the process of training a dog to help a hunter flush and fetch his quarry. Here you see a beautiful English lab doing what he was trained to do:

He was so excited to show off his bird (here, a pigeon)!

Next up was archery, rain or shine (RAIN). It was also freezing cold up in these mountains.

After the archery we took a break in the car to warm up our hands. It was our only break in almost 8 straight hours of standing/walking in the rain, and we were glad for it.

Next up, we practiced our shotgun shooting. Willa almost quit the day before due to recoil but decided to keep trying. These two wonderful gentlemen gave her all the confidence she needed.

It continued to pour rain. This is our ride out to our hunting spot:

And this is daughty, receiving instruction from her guide and meeting her bird dog, Coby:

Finally they set out on their hunt. This is super zoomed-in on the first of two spots.

And the second spot. I doubted that she got one... it was so hard to see!

This is her returning with a big smile. But did she bag us any dinner?

She did - she got TWO pheasants!

This is her telling war stories with the other hunters at our spot.

Posing together in the pouring rain. She was so proud of herself!

We discussed the Blooding Rite (the hunter's ritual of putting first kill blood on one's cheeks) and she surprised me again when she told me to do that for her. We talked about the dear pheasants that she just took to provide us our food, just as a fisherman takes a beautiful fish out of water and fillets it, or plucks mussels off the rocks in the ocean, or the archer who takes a deer with her bow. In those cases, the animals lived free and their death was a necessity for life. Most of our factory-farmed animals aren't so lucky, but such is the way of modern-day life: most people are left completely out of the food chain.

When we got home, she told her siblings, "I got us dinner! I got us dinner!" We made Pheasant Pot Pie or Hunter's Pie. I had enough for one great big pie, and one individual pie, which Willa wanted all to herself.

~ Here's the recipe ~


2 pheasants, de-boned, or 1.5 lbs of chicken breasts or boneless thighs
2 T olive or canola oil (or a mixture)
1 yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, sliced into thin medallions
2 potatoes, diced
¼ lb unsalted butter (one stick)
½ C flour (all-purpose)
2.5 C + stock – one veggie stock and one low-sodium chicken
1.5 t salt
¾ t black pepper
3 T heavy whipping cream
½ lb frozen peas, unthawed

For the Pastry – if not using pre-made crust:
3 C flour (all-purpose)
1.5 t salt
1 t baking powder
8 T lard (find at Stater Bros)
8 T cold unsalted butter
½ to ¾ C ice water

1 egg, beaten with a T of water or cream (egg wash)

First I made the Dorie Greenspan crust. It cannot be beat!

For the crust, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the lard and butter and pulse 10 (ish) times, until the fat is the size of peas. With the motor on low, add enough ice water to moisten the dough and have it just come together. 

Dump the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead quickly into a ball. Cover in plastic and allow to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more. 

Put the pheasant or chicken into a baking dish with the 2T oil and bake for 20 minutes on 325 if cooking pheasant, or 35-40 minutes on 350 if cooking chicken. 

Meanwhile boil a pot of 2 quarts water. Blanch the potato cubes for 15 minutes.

This is one bird after we cleaned it but before dividing it:

Before cooking:

Sauté the onions with the stick of butter in a large sauté pan on medium for about 5 minutes. Add the potato and cook another 5 minutes. Add the carrots and cook 5 more.

Add the flour and cook over low heat for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

Slowly add the stock and the salt and pepper and simmer 5 more minutes. Add the heavy whipping cream.

When the pheasant or chicken is done baking and cool enough to be handled, cut it into bite-sized cubes. Add to the sauce along with the frozen peas. 


When ready, remove the dough from the fridge and divide into two (one for the top of the pie, one for the bottom). Roll out each half to fit a 9 or 9 ½ -inch round by 2-inch high ovenproof glass or ceramic baking dish. Place 1 crust in the dish and if you have time, place that dish into the freezer for 15 minutes or more. Remove and fill with filling mixture, and top with the second crust. Crimp the crusts together and brush with egg wash. Make slashes or fork-pokes in the top crust.

 In the oven.

 Ta dah!

I PROMISE this recipe is amazing, even with (organic) chicken from the store.

Thanks for sharing our first youth hunting + cooking adventure with us, and I hope you try the recipe!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Beating the storm | Friday horn shark snorkel

So we had this big rain storm this weekend and it was about as bad as predicted. Since run-off contamination after a big rain here in San Diego is always a concern, I knew I had about a week of not being able to hit the beach coming at me (storm time + 72 hours after rains end)... so I ran over there quick on Friday afternoon just as the clouds were rolling in, and look what I found!

~Click the gear icon and select "HD" for the clearest dive experience~

Sea lion regulars and a very large horn shark. It's interesting how differently they behave than leopard sharks, which are very shy and skittish if you dive down on them. This guy wasn't intimidated by me AT ALL.

This is about when I sighted him:

Chasing him, which wasn't hard because he didn't hurry away from me, kind of like a Sevengill:

Getting in close to observe him even better. I wonder how old he is to be so big?

And on the way out, the usual suspects. You can see those clouds really starting to roll in:

Is this The Boss? She's large and lazy enough to be, and just near enough to her beloved staircase lounge spot to make me think so!

Thanks for looking ;)