Monday, January 9, 2017

Behind-the-Scenes-Safari | San Diego Zoo Safari Park


Last month my birthday fell on a Tuesday during winter break, so it was pretty much a me-and-the-kids day. When I'm looking to do something special with the kids I look first to either the San Diego Zoo or the San Diego Safari Park. Both are part of the same entity, and both are awesome in different ways, though the Safari Park has the Orfila Winery en route - and that is a compelling factor in its favor.


Last year I celebrated my birthday with a Caravan Safari, which was spectacular... so this year we opted for a Behind the Scenes Safari. This is Willa with our guide Lauren in the front of our tram, starting the tour. Lauren was nice enough, especially considering that one of our kids had some near-meltdowns (per her usual) and it was through sheer dumb luck (and a lot of my re-direction) that she didn't actually meltdown, or else Lauren's face would have looked a lot more stressed, believe me.


Our first visit was to some off-display little warehouses which were housing some of the animals which regularly serve as "Animal Ambassadors." This is a Victoria crowned pigeon.


Would it offend you to know that I wondered if it would taste just like a giant dove? Because I did. I also wanted to have one as a pet! Hopefully that is the final joke I'm going to make about my everlasting Omnivore's Dilemma, for today at least.


I wonder: if you are anything short of an Ambassador for our country, are you then somehow less successful in life than this bird is? I mean she is literally the Ambassador for her entire species. What are you? Just one of countless billions.


This hedgehog makes Ambassador simply by being cute, and not being too shy. It turns out that shy types don't make good Ambassadors. Not unlike the real world of humans, is it?


Everyone was amazed that I ID'd this beauty on the spot as a caracal. I nodded and accepted all of their kudos, but the fact is that I know this from watching too many episodes of Wild Kratts when my youngest was little, which is kind of sad, really.


Next up we stalked the elephants. Here they are playing with toys because they are intelligent and so can get quite bored, yet the toys have to be strong enough to withstand their destructive power.


It's like they don't quite know their own strength. If they would only learn how to be more gentle, they might get things like human puzzles! But right now they would probably just eat the cardboard puzzle pieces, which is a real waste when hay is just as nutritious, and cheaper.


We witnessed a mother, father, and their elephant son mixing it up a bit. Now I'm no animal behaviorist, but I know conflict when I see it! Then just as quickly as it began, the fight was over, with the possible victor (?) huffing and puffing a bit as they walked away. I guess in human parlance this would be called a "strut."


Next up were the okapis. I've always coveted their velveteen-like fur until I learned that it leaves an oily residue when you run your finger over them. Now while many of you are thinking, "Gross!" I should remind you that these are rain forest animals, and last time I checked, they don't make raincoats for okapis. So the oily fur helps the water bead off of them during showers.

Don't be so critical!


You can feed the okapis. What do you think they eat: veggies, meat, or chocolate?


You would be wrong if you said meat, or even chocolate. These big weirdos (who are more closely-related to giraffes than anything else) actually love celery and carrots. 


You will be disciplined if you try to bring them anything other than what the feeders tell you to feed them, so don't even try it.


Next we rode all around the big safari mainlands. The flamingos are more white than pink here, and the gist from Lauren was that the Safari Park is keeping it real rather than dyeing their food to make them pinker for your camera lens. What she didn't know, though, was that I have Lightroom, and Lightroom will let me manipulate the amount of pink in any given shot so that these birds look more like I want them to.


A wild crow, smart enough to take advantage of the free food in the park. Probably the smartest animal in the park, including most of the primates.


Antelopes. I think. No! I checked and I think they are actually Nile lechwe.


An African Crowned Crane. And NO, it's leg's aren't broken! It's doing this on purpose to throw you off. Then just when you get close enough to catch it, it will spring up and run away, leaving you standing there looking very foolish for falling for this trick.


See the rhinos have already seen it a thousand times.


They are so cute, right? These are wide-lipped African white rhinos. And believe it or not, they are genetically programmed to become this large and fearsome-looking from eating little blades of grass and nothing more.


This is a mother Beeki-bok and her calf. Okay, it's probably more Nile lechwes, but if I were leading the tour I guarantee you that I could call them Beeki-boks and no one would bat an eye. 

If I ever apply for a Tour Guide job at the Safari Park (which is a For Real thing I might actually want to do one day), then forget I ever said this.


This one is a baby - about that I am sure.


Basically, cattle. Granted they are a lot prettier than your feed lot cattle, but still the same thing.


Here are some Caravan tourists feeding the one-horned rhinos their apples.

Why is one of the rhinos so wet? It looks like a Lil Jon concert, and believe me I know from experience.


Name the three species in this photo! No, really. Name them?


Some kind of deer?


Cheetah!


Looks at the fluffy fur on the shoulders - this one is still growing up.


Giraffe, with some Arabian oryx (judging by the straight horns). Oryx are antelopes where both sexes maintain their horns.


A lioness surveying her territory. Don't worry, she didn't have access to any of the prey animals, above - nor did she have access to us.

It's like you think this Park had no legal counsel whatsoever.


The best "Behind the Scenes" part of the whole tour was the backlot for the beautiful Tiger Trail, with this incredibly beautiful young Sumatran tiger.


He was so curious about us. I told him he wasn't going to taste anything behind that glass!


He was a little perturbed by being able to see, but not taste us.


You can see three of these babes on the Tiger Cam.


It might catch some action or it might catch one of these epic nap sessions that make the tigers look like victims of Jonestown.

I really wondered if they were all three okay or not. But their stillness does give you the opportunity to zoom in on how cute they are!




Hope you can make it out to the Safari Park to enjoy these guys.
Thanks for looking! xo















Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Venison Steak Diane


A gorgeous recipe by Hank Shaw recently scrolled across my screen that looked so good that I would've tried it with beef if I didn't have a beautiful venison loin resting in my freezer from my Texas Big Game Hunting Adventure.

I told you that everyone was being polite about claiming the meat during that Getaway, so I was scrawling my name across as much of the good stuff as I could get away with short of just stuffing the packages right down my shirt!


It started with the defrosted venison tenderloin I had cut out of our "butchery deer" myself. I'm holding it here:


As a reminder, this deer was one of about 20 which our landowner/host was required to cull by the conservation experts at the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department in order to keep the local ecosystem in check. 

If you need a refresher course on how important it is to keep deer numbers in check, watch this amazing film.



Do you ever wonder where the name, "Steak Diane" comes from? Apparently it comes from Diana, the Greco-Roman goddess of the hunt, and this very recipe was intended to be used with game meat such as venison, not beef as has become so popular over the past few decades.


Let's get to it!

Ingredients

Venison tenderloin, 1/2 lb. or more (you're going to eyeball the cooking anyway)
Salt
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 Cup brandy (shown below poured into the 1/3 Cup container - I needed the 1/4 C for cream)
1/2 Cup beef broth
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon mustard
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 Cup heavy cream
Minced chives for garnish (or basil, parsley, etc.)


Method.

Salt the venison loin and bring it to room temperature, apx. 20 min.

Heat the butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat for about 90 seconds. Pat the venison dry with a paper towel and cook it on all sides. Also, if yours is split roughly down the middle or more (so tender!), DON'T DO WHAT I DID and use your tongs like a ninja to keep it held together. Learn from my mistake - tie up your beautiful loin with butcher's twine and don't give holding it together another thought! 

PS: I am sure that I was drinking when I cooked this (this was Christmas Night dinner, so YES I had been drinking), so that is my excuse for not tying it up beforehand.


Turn the heat to medium so the butter doesn’t scorch - it takes about 8-10 minutes to get a nice brown crust on the venison without overcooking the center. Remove the venison, tent loosely with foil and set aside. 

It will hopefully look a little like this (but neater because you tied yours up):


Add the shallots to the pan and cook for 1 minute, then add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Don’t let the garlic burn. 

Deglaze the pan with the brandy, scraping off any stuck-on bits in the pan with a wooden spoon. 


Let the brandy cook down almost to a glaze, then add the venison stock, tomato paste, mustard and Worcestershire sauce and stir to combine. Let this boil down until a wooden spoon dragged across the pan leaves a trail behind it that does not fill in for a second or two. This should take about 3 minutes on high heat.


Turn off the heat and let the boiling subside. Stir in the cream until the sauce is as light as you like. Don’t let the sauce boil again or it could break. Have you ever eaten a sauce that has broken? It's worse than a plate full of broken hearts!

Warning: sauce is very delicious. You may try to drink it but DON'T, you need it for the meat to go swimming.


Slice the venison into thick medallions. If you find you have not cooked it enough, let the meat swim in the sauce for a few moments to heat through. 


I can't tell you how good this was!


If the venison is cooked to your liking, pour some sauce on a plate and top with the meat, or put down a gentle bed of mashed potatoes first, then the meat, then bathe it all in the sauce. I served with roasted carrots for a pop of color and a bit of sweetness to complement the savory sauce.

Garnish with some chopped herbs. Apparently chives is traditional, but you can substitute basil or parsley. We served with a favorite red - a Meiomi Pinot Noir.


Enjoy! xo