Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Leopard sharks in La Jolla

If it's September in La Jolla, you know what time it is!

News publications far and near write about these beautiful chondricthyans (sorry), but if you get to the right spot at the right time you can observing their graceful movements in the shallows for yourself - especially if you're snorkeling/freediving. Even better if you're solo or in a very small group.

It's been observed by some that they dislike scuba bubbles.

Although they are fast and sometimes skittish, on this day they were fairly curious. It allowed me to film their faces and their beautiful eyes, which are quite expressive.

Their patterned skin is luminescent.

 Check out their movement in the water:

 Thanks for looking and happy diving!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Dove Weekend 2016 | Jamie Oliver's "Roast of Incredible Game Birds"

Last weekend we headed out to El Centro for a dove-hunting adventure to celebrate the dove season opener.

It's out past the Yuma desert and it can get crazy hot, crazy windy, or both:

As usual we probably got there too late. We're always aiming for a pre-dawn start to catch all the birds as they awaken and start their morning flights, but by the time we actually set up camp, the sun was well in the sky. I brought some reading material for the waiting game.
This is my favorite Jamie Oliver book, bar none.

The photographs are gorgeous all throughout this book, and if you are good at gardening, you will find inspiration in its pages. You will also find considerable hunting inspiration.

Here Jamie Oliver pens one of my favorite modern-day essays on hunting. I subscribe to the thinking behind it 100%: if you eat meat, why would you prefer to get it from a factory farm in which that animal lived a horrible life and died an inhumane death, instead of from a free-ranging animal that lived a good life and died a quick death? Why feed your family meat that is loaded with antibiotics and growth hormones over plucking a few feathers or trimming some fins? 

Hunting can affect the way you buy your non-hunted meat too... and cook it. It can also affect the way you think about that animal, having hunted before. 

So I settled on this recipe: Roast of Incredible Game Birds with Proper Polenta, in case we failed to limit-out on the doves (spoiler alert: of course we failed to limit out.) If you get a ton of doves you can make a bunch of them this way, or mix in some teal or grouse or whatever else you like. Do you make your own sausage? I don't, but if you do it would be phenomenal with this.

 Here's one of our doves. Good-sized, and their crops were full of long grain.

Plucking in the field. I love to do this out in the field because the feathers go everywhere. The wind takes them up and away, unless you save the bigger/prettier ones for later.

The doves cleaned up well. Do yourself a favor and watch this video by professional food photographer and hunting guide Holly Heyser. The simplicity of it changed my life with regard to dove cleaning!

And now, the recipe! 

Ingredients - mix up the birds any way you like. Use literally any kind, it's all good! 

1 pheasant or 2 chickens, spatchcocked, washed and patted dry - I used one chicken for the 5 of us.
2 wood pigeons, washed and patted dry - I used doves.
1 guinea fowl and/or 1 partridge and/or 4 quails, washed and patted dry - I did not have them.
Herbs from Provence, or sprigs of Thyme and Rosemary
1 lemon or orange, zested
1 red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
4 sticks celery, trimmed and roughly chopped - I used peas because our household loves them!
4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 Italian sausages - I used 2 chicken sausages and would recommend pork; they will do better in the oven.
A few sprigs fresh bay, leaves picked
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound polenta
A wineglass red wine (recommended: Chianti) - I used a pinot noir I had opened.
1/2 cup butter, divided
2 handfuls freshly grated Parmesan
Extra-virgin olive oil


Preheat your oven to 475.

Either ask your butcher to spatchcock the guinea fowl / chicken / pheasant for you, or do it yourself: Turn the bird upside down and cut underneath the legs with a good pair of scissors. Remove the bony part of the carcass that has no meat on it (bearing in mind that you want to save the incredible meat around the legs) and open the bird out like a book. 

You can then stuff the cavities of the other birds with the flavorings - salt and pepper, olive oil, a sprig of rosemary, a sprig of thyme and a little orange or lemon zest. I love to use Herbs from Provence because it has a bunch of good stuff, especially lavender.

Place the onion, celery and carrots in a large roasting pan (or 2 small ones) and lay the sausages and birds on top. On the way home we picked up my favorite chicken sausage from Sprouts - both sweet and spicy. In retrospect, if I were you, I would try pork sausage in this recipe, and my reason is that chicken sausage is a bit lean to let roast in the oven for as long as required for the larger bird/s to cook.

Throw in the bay leaves and more Herbs from Provence or thyme + rosemary. Drizzle with olive oil and massage it into each bird. Season all the meat generously, wedging the smaller birds between the larger ones and protecting them from direct heat by kind of burying them among the other ingredients. 

Place in the preheated oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 350 degrees F. Cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, turning the birds a few times, until the meat is juicy and cooked through to the bone. With a few/smaller birds, one hour will be more than plenty.

After half an hour, bring 1 quart of salted water to the boil in a non-stick pan and whisk in the polenta. Turn the heat right down, place a lid on so it's ajar (otherwise the pan might spit hot polenta all over) and simmer for 50 minutes, stirring it as often as you can. If it starts to become too thick, add some more hot water. I had to do this many times. 

Is now the time to tell you that I don't really care for polenta? Because I really don't. I just kept thinking about how much more delicious this meal would have been with my mashed potatoes instead. But if you like polenta, go ahead and make it.

Remove the birds from the oven, lift them out of the pan and keep warm. Put the pan on the burner, pour in the wine and simmer gently to make a quick sauce. 

Then see to the polenta - stir in about 3/4 of the butter and all the grated Parmesan. Once smooth, taste and season if required. Spoon all the polenta onto a big board or platter, spread it out evenly and put to the side to firm up a little.

Give your sauce a stir and add the rest of the butter. Strain it through a sieve into a pan, pressing down hard. Cut the bigger birds into drumstick thighs and breast pieces and place with all the other birds on top of your polenta. Slice the sausages and add to the pile. Spoon the red wine sauce over the top and finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Put the board in the middle of the table and let everyone dive in. As Jamie says, "A fantastic feast!"


Hope you enjoy! Thanks for looking, and happy hunting!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Harbor seal encounter | Independence Day weekend @ La Valencia Hotel

Over the Fourth of July weekend (yes I know it was practically "last" summer, though it's still Labor Day weekend so I'm getting this in within the same season at least) we planned a staycation for the long weekend/holiday and for the Old Man's birthday, which is July 3rd. On his actual birthday, we planned a snorkel with harbor seals. 

It went better than could be expected. 

Most encounters with seals or sea lions are positive, and some are even downright charming - if fleeting. We know when we see them that they aren't going to stay around long because of their fine-honed survival instincts: investigate and then move on. 

These harbor seals were able to give in to their natural curiosity a bit more than usual, probably because of the few people in the water (only two) and because of the amount of time we spent with them.

They stopped to play and really interact. Language barrier be damned!

They tried to taste the camera. I'm guessing the review by this darling is, "meh."

Also, our fins! Guessing again that they might feel good on the gums, but not exactly tasty. And don't give me a hard time about "feeding them my rubber fins." It's not like I offered them these fins on purpose like some kind of bad host. First of all, this is their home. They should be offering me things! We were just guests.

I will just roll the video so you can see how spectacular a dive with them can be.

This is the video from Hanuman's birthday. He said the encounter was the best present he could have asked for. It was mine, too! And it wasn't even my birthday.

We were so excited about that dive that we brought our children back the next day - July 4th - and it was a madhouse! So many people on the beach (this photo fails to highlight how crowded it was, probably because I was trying to angle my phone away from the masses). We all ventured into the water, but we weren't getting any good seal action because of all the people. So we left the beach and walked around town.

This long weekend was really made possible by our stay at La Valencia Hotel, my favorite staycation destination because of its proximity to our favorite dive spots.

Photo from our anniversary trip in 2012, but it shows the pool area best.

The kids could play in that pool for hours. Not pictured: the prank our middle child played on another innocent kid, when she told him that there was a big secret about her dad (Hanuman): the fact that he has an extra TOE. She then laughed and laughed, and I guffawed right along with her because - what a weird lie to tell for laughs? The only thing I loved more than the initial telling of the joke was retelling it later to the Old Man. All of us could hardly get the story out, to be honest.

They make a nice pina colada, too. That's always the drink I order when I want to really feel like VACATION IS NOW. 

The place used to be crawling with bougainvillea, but they've cut it all back now. Probably because of the drought.


They also have great eats and a nice cosmo-like drink called the Pink Lady. This photo either looks festive, or like I'm some kind of eating-and-drinking lush.

The rooms are small, but charming. Unless you get a villa - then they are big and spectacular. We did not get a villa, because it's way pricier than the room we got. Besides, it's always nice to look around and say, "Ooh, look at THAT room! The views from that one must be crazy." This is my silver-lining type of thinking, anyway.

Each floor has some OTT wallpaper that screams "tropics." They'd probably prefer some other description, but...

One time I was going about my business of relaxing poolside when I was startled upon seeing THIS: a Harris hawk perched on the side of the building, untethered (read: FREEish!)

We investigated and discovered that she is cared for by a talented falconer (if the bird in question is a hawk it is more properly termed an "austringer," but whatever) who uses this bird to deter sea gulls from disturbing the hotel's dining scene.

If you know the sea gulls around here, you know that they are extremely aggressive in adulthood. I mean you could accurately describe their behavior as "bullying."

Her name is Pearl. Isn't that nice? I'm so glad her name didn't turn out to be Harriet (the Harris Hawk). Or even worse, Harris. Even though she's a girl. That strategy really only works with humans and dogs, I think.


She was easily lured back by the irresistable food rewards her handler offered. But her mere presence seemed enough to affect the pushiness of the sea gulls.

Aside from Pearl, the best thing about this hotel is their Whaler drink, served at Cafe la Rue. It is made of Kahlua, Creme de Cacao, Brandy, + ice cream. It will be one of the best things you ever taste.

If you have an aggressively-nosy child who hears that there is ice cream in this, you can give them a sip - it's not terribly strong. Unless that is actually considered Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor, in which case we all know that I make stuff up for this blog.

Next we headed to our favorite cafe and cookie shop, Girard's. We go there every chance we get with the kids because... where else can you get a sea lion cookie? It's always funny when they take their first bite and we scream on behalf of the sea lion or frog or whatever being eaten. Well I guess it can't possibly be funny anymore, but it always does happen.

They also have a crazy array of tarts, if that's your thing. I know that for some of you, it is.

Fourth-of-July specials! After being a former Cub Scout den leader, I have become so brainwashed about proper flag handling (DON'T LET IT TOUCH THE GROUND!) that I almost had a hard time taking a bite of this cookie.


Speaking of festive specials, we also had breakfast at Richard Walker's Pancake House. Their specialties are obviously pancakes. Unfortunately, what you see below are, according to them, "pancakes." One is the "Dutch Harvest" and the other is simply the "Apple Pancake."

Both are decadent feasts that will make you heady with delight while eating them, but possibly sick if you finish them. I mean sick in a "too full" way. But I hate to presume what your stomach bag can hold.

Maybe we should be giving those of us who work out the inside of their stomachs the same respect we give those with washboard abs! Or at the very least, a nod that says, "Whoa, nice job finishing that monster." Because I felt like a bit of a failure barely making a dent in it.

I brought our kids back to the Children's Pool a few days later after the craziness had died down, and it was awesome - no crowds at all!

I would take one child out with me into the deeper water where one can get better seal interactions, and leave the other two to play together in the relative safety of the sand and shallows.

Here's the video of the kids. :)

And... how cute are these baby bullies? Young sea gulls look so darn adorbsies.

A little video of them:

Hope you had a wonderful 4th of July if you even remember it anymore.
Thanks for looking!