Anza Borrego Desert State Park- Wildflower “Super Bloom” March 2017

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Brown-eyed Primrose

California’s above average, drought-busting winter rains are the proverbial blessing and a curse- floods, rock falls and mudslides that probably won’t be seen for another ten to twenty years, but the reservoirs are near to full, the snowpack in the Sierras is reassuringly deep and… oh, the WILDFLOWERS!

 

 

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Blue-eyed Scorpion Weed (AKA Wild Heliotrope?)

If you have considered driving out to the desert to see The Superbloom, GO. NOW. I’m going to conclude this post with a barrage of photos of the desert wildflowers.

 

Here is our Anza Borrego Desert State Park in full bloom on March 13, 2017:

Above: top left- Lupine (Arizona Lupine?); top right- Beavertail Cactus; bottom- Desert Sunflower

 

Some of the wildflowers at one of the highway park entrance signs, pictured below, include Desert Pincushion, Desert Dandelion, and Blue-eyed Scorpion Weed, and in the pic on the left, you can also see an Ocotillo “skeleton.”

It’s simply lovely. I mean LOOK HOW GREEN THE DESERT HILLS ARE! Below left, an Ocotillo’s tips are ready to fire up it’s red blooms. Below right a Cholla cactus is usually the only green thing you would see in this picture.. again, look at those GREEEN HILLS!

Henderson Canyon Road is stunning this year:

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A ridiculously beautiful expanse of yellow Desert Sunflowers

 

Coyote Canyon has water! And amazing flowers!

 

More flowers, Ocotillo, and Agave along the Coyote Canyon drive (off-road, not for casual tourists in sedans):

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Wednesday’s Wildflowers- Torrey Pines State Reserve

Along the coastal chaparral of the Guy Fleming Trail wildflowers are bursting forth thanks to the downpours we’ve seen this rainy season. If you can’t drive out to the desert region this spring, get over to Torrey Pines State Reserve and enjoy the beauty before the heat returns and withers away these blooms.

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Wooly Paintbrush is one of the chaparral perennials.
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The San Diego Sea Dahlia, of the sunflower family, has contrasting sturdy stems and delicate leaves.
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Here is one of my favorite wildflowers to spot- Miner’s Lettuce, of the purslane family. An early spring edible like the more common purslane… but don’t take my word for it, I’m no botanist.
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One of the many mustards, Milkmaids are popping up all over the Torrey Pines trails.

Thanks to my handy-dandy spiral bound book-

Native Plants Torrey Pines State Reserve & nearby San Diego County Locations

by Margaret L. Fillius, 2nd Edition

This book is available for purchase at the visitor center atop the preserve, and if you’re lucky, the author will be on site leading a nature walk.

“I Need to Eat Better” Soup- Lentil, Spinach, and Roasted Butternut Squash Soup featuring Something from Nothing Vegetable Broth

I’m trying to come up with a new soup recipe for dinner tonight.

Hopefully, this soup will be SO delicious, it will help be break my fried food (undeniably delicious) addiction. Yeah, I know this is asking a lot of a simple soup but Good Grief, I need some help! I consider it a monumental battle won if I can make it out of the Mexican grocery store with only the tortillas and produce that I intend to buy and leave the chicharrones behind. Many, many battles have been lost recently.

Sometimes a bit of good advice you once heard is all you need to start that ball rolling toward better habits (or if you are me, away from the french fries and onion rings). For example- I’ve heard that if you really want a great vegetable broth, you’d be smart to freeze vegetable scraps and make your own. Maybe a nice, homemade vegetable broth will help this new soup idea become a winning recipe.

Over about three weeks I have been tossing scraps into a bag that has sat in my freezer. That asparagus we grilled? The snapped-off ends went into the bag. In went the onion trimmings, parsley, spinach and mushroom stems, carrot peelings, as well as the  bits from the beets, cauliflower and broccoli we  boiled, roasted or sauteed. Everything finally found its way into the stock pot of water this morning to simmer along with a bay leaf, salt and pepper.

Hopefully, I will have a great base for tonight’s soup. In the meantime, my house smells great! Maybe that is a good sign…

Evening update:

Oh yeah, this soup is DEE-LISH! And it was definitely worth it to make that vegetable broth… The pre-cooked lentils from Trader Joe’s refrigerator section are better than if I made my own (I cannot seem to cook these properly… so frustrating). Combined with pre-chopped butternut squash that took only 45 minutes at 400 degrees to roast up all caramelized and tender, and finishing this soup with bagged baby spinach brings this soup into weeknight dinner speed.

I will make this soup again… Even if it isn’t as good as fried stuff. Like chicharrones.

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Don’t look at the squash- I left it in the oven too long. I said, “Don’t look!!” It still tasted great, though.

Lentil, Spinach, and Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

  • one onion, diced
  • 4-6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 can or 1/2 of a 17.6 oz package of steamed lentils
  • 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 lb uncooked, chopped butternut squash
  • 4 tsp olive oil, divided
  • salt, spices to taste

-Preheat oven to 400; on a baking sheet, toss squash with 2 teaspoons of the oil and sprinkle with salt and your choice of spices (I used curry and chili powder… it was great!). Roast squash for about 45 minutes or until soft but not mushy.

-While squash is roasting, cook onions in the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Stirring frequently, the onions should become nice and caramelized by the time the squash has finished roasting.

-Once onions are lightly caramelized, add to the same pot the broth, lentils and spinach and bring to a simmer; add the squash when it is done roasting. Stir, adjust seasonings (needs salt, maybe?) and serve!

Makes about 4 servings of really tasty, really good for you soup, and it was very nice with toast and sliced fruit.

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My reward- about 4 quarts of vegetable broth

Want really good vegetable broth, too?

  • Throw vegetable scraps into a zip top freezer bag.
  • When the bag has a variety of trimming or your patience has had it with the bag of junk in the freezer, empty the bag into a large pot and cover with about one gallon of water.
  • Simmer for anywhere from one to four hours- another option would be to use a slow cooker for this job.

 

 

 

 

More Branching Out with New To-Do Lists…

Alternative titles for this post included the following: “How to Survive Teenagers in the House,” “Keeping Your Sanity with Teens,” “If you thought my nagging is annoying, kid, wait until you experience yo mama’s supernagging!” and “Help Me, I Have a Teenaged Son.”

Honestly, I can’t really use any of the above alternates because The Boy is a growing into a fabulous young man. If I could harness a fraction of his drive and (hyper-)focus there is no telling WHAT I could accomplish.

So, the boring, non-antagonistic title will have to stay for now.

My strategy for success (my own, not the The Boy’s- he shall have his own) is to keep discovering new… everything: restaurants, recipes, cocktails, hikes, sports, books, friends, music, etc. Hopefully I will keep my sanity by continuing to grow myself as I watch my two teens grow.

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Scratch Lab’s cookbooks- for feeding those athletes you love
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The Main Man, The Bard, Wm Shakespeare

The Short List for 2017

  • Piano lessons for me (or online tutorial… anyone have any suggestions?)
  • Complete OpenCulture.com’s Survey of Shakespeare’s Plays
  • Complete a 15 mile mountain bike race this June while The Husband makes short work of the longer race
  • Tear through some fab recipes in my Scratch Labs cookbook. Because I don’t want to be eating icky bars or energy gels on the above mentioned ride.
  • Finally watch Downton Abbey (because I have to do something about this Sherlock hangover. Moffat and Gatiss- can we have more than three episodes per series? Pretty Please?)
  • And probably the most important on this list, give The Boy enough rope to learn, grow and thrive- and trust that he wont hang himself. And try to shut my mouth shut. Because he is one heck of an awesome guy.

 

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Did you know that if you wear a green Christmas Sweater, the camera will add at least 15 pounds in a photo? Beware. Or it could just be the stress of raising a teenager. Either way, beware.

Recipe: Farro Stuffed Tomato on Arugula with Black Beans and Feta

I started running for one reason only. Well, maybe two:  second helpings of tacos and/or that extra glass of wine. Sidelined by two slight but nagging injuries and five pounds gained, I made this Farro Stuffed Tomato on Arugula with Black Beans and Feta to help steer my food-loving face toward better choices. Bit players on the plate include walnuts and julienned cucumber and red onion- YUM! This is a hearty, filling, flavorful lunch salad yet still a lighter meal. You know, like, if you’ve been eating too many tacos of late.

Farro Stuffed Tomato on Arugula with Black Brand and Feta- this was seriously holy freaking yum good.

Farro Stuffed Tomato on Arugula with Black Beans and Feta
for two servings

  • 1 large, really good tomato
  • 4 cups loosely packed arugula, well washed
  • 1 cup cooked farro
  • 1/2 cup julienned red onion
  • 1/2 cup julienned cucumber
  • 1/2 cup black beans, I used canned
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • 2 tablespoons toasted walnut pieces
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar salt, pepper, herb blend (Penzey’s Parisien Bonnes Herbes blend is mighty good)

Cook farro according to package directions. I added salt, onion powder and garlic powder to my cooking water, and used the “put the grain in the pot, ad two or three cups of water, cook until tender, then drain off all the extra water” method.

While farro is cooking-

  • slice tomato in half along its equator, and scoop out the inside of the fruit. Dice the part that you’ve removed, and set aside
  • divide arugula between two plates and top each pile with a tomato half
  • sprinkle onion, cucumber, diced tomato guts, beans (rinse ’em off in water first),  feta, and walnuts evenly between the two servings of arugula

When farro is done (taste it… tender + done), drain off cooking water and while it is still in the pot, drizzle about one tablespoon of olive oil and half a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar over the grain. Mix in salt, pepper, and any herb blend at this point, too.

Fill each tomato half with the seasoned farro mixture. Drizzle arugula with a little more salt, pepper, olive oil, and vinegar and dig in!

Have you tried farro yet? It is one of the ancient grains that have been appearing in the markets recently. Along with quinoa and chia, farro has been cultivated for centuries, if not millennia. How does it taste? Well, I think of the grain as a larger, more mild and more tender version of barley.

It took a recipe this tasty to write up another blog post here on Branching Out on a Limb. I had intended to just snap a picture for my mom and tell her about my lunch creation, but the picture and recipe were too good not to share. This salad would also be great with beets, goat cheese, and pine nuts over romaine; turkey, dried cranberries, and hazelnuts over butter lettuce… please share your own great combinations!

Open Letter to Oklahoma Voters and Lawmakers

What are our priorities? As a nation, a parent, a member of any community, WHAT, in the name of all that is good and holy, ARE OUR PRIORITIES?

Steven E. Wedel

I am a teacher. I teach English at the high school of an independent district within Oklahoma City. I love my job. I love your kids. I call them my kids. I keep blankets in my room for when they’re cold. I feed them peanut butter crackers, beef jerky, or Pop Tarts when Michelle Obama’s school breakfast or lunch isn’t enough to fill their bellies. I comfort them when they cry and I praise them when they do well and always I try to make them believe that they are somebody with unlimited potential no matter what they go home to when they leave me.

What do they go home to? Sometimes when they get sick at school they can’t go home because you and the person you’re currently shacking up with are too stoned to figure out it’s your phone ringing. Sometimes they go home to parents who don’t…

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Branching Out is Back… with a PSA: Get Yourself a Shingles Vaccine

There are too many new things out there that I want to try, from recipes and restaurants to tourist spots and theatrical shows. Guess I’m going to have to continue my adventures of the new and novel into 2016!

Let’s begin this year with a GREAT tip on a new experience that I recommend you DON’T try: Shingles. This is not fun. Luckily, it’s a super mild case that is only annoyingly itchy and stings a bit… and on my leg- NOT my face (dangerous!), NOT horridly painful (thanks be to GOD). Did I mention how lucky I know that I am? And thankful??

What’s Important to Know

  • If you suspect your bug bite is not, in fact, a bug bite (like I did), see your doctor right away- shingles symptoms and duration can be lessened with anti-viral medications (I waited five days… dummy).
  • Wondering if any topical sprays or ointments help with the pain? I did too, here’s what I found than helped… only one thing- Solarcaine Aloe Extra Burn Relief Spray, or it’s Generic Store Brand Version. I think it is the pain reliever “Lidocaine” that is what makes it help.
  • Shingles aren’t exactly contagious, but if someone who has never had chicken pox comes into contact with the blisters on an active shingles outbreak, it can cause them to contract chicken pox. Talk to your doc to know for sure!
  • Friends are saying that they know kids as young as two-year-olds who have had shingles, as well as others in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. Just because the commercials show retirees talking about the shingles vaccine doesn’t mean that they have cornered the market on this painful condition.
  • I still don’t understand if I can get another outbreak of shingles… some websites say yes, others say no… I’m going to ask my doc if she will let me get the vaccine early (I’m not quite 49 and the recommended minimum age is 60).
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The ONLY spray or ointment that helped with the pain is this one with Lidocaine.
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None of these topical treatments helped with the itch and pain EXCEPT the spray on the left- CVS’s generic version of Solarcaine Aloe Extra Burn Relief

So, here’s your Public Service Announcement: ask your doctor about whether or not a shingles vaccine is right for you. Really really REALLY.