Great Falls

In a way, the peaceful nature of this long exposure of Great Falls belies the violence with which it was frothing two days after torrential downpours two weeks ago. A portion of its trails were closed due to flooding; in fact I had originally tried to hike in from Riverbend only to be met with a closed trail so I had to drive to Great Falls (honestly, I was trying to see the Conn Island eaglets that day and not the falls, but I couldn’t get within view of their nest from either park due to the floods and had to settle for the falls!).

Just a bit south is Mather Gorge. I don’t think I have ever seen Mather Gorge without kayakers in it and that day was no exception, although I thought they were cray-zeee. There are actually kayakers in this picture; you just can’t see them because they were twirling so quickly and it’s another long exposure. 🙂

In looking at my photo gallery I’ve just noticed that I apparently go to Riverbend and/or Great Falls every Friday after work! And I may have planned to go there today if we hadn’t had even MORE torrential rain last night. Many of our streets were closed this morning due to flooding, so I’m sure there’s no hope the trail between Riverbend and Great Falls is open. I’m sure the trails everywhere that ARE open are a muddy mess. Boo. Anyway, about those Conn Island eaglets. I couldn’t get to them two weeks ago and I’m sure I can’t get to them today, but I got to them last Friday and they were safe and sound…and turning black in color from their infant gray! (FACT: It will be four or five years until their head is “bald”, which is another word for white, at which time they will finally be considered adults.) Can you see the baby in this picture? He’s partially blocked by a branch but he’s just to the right of the eagle that is sitting in the nest, whose head you can just see.

I’m hitting the farmers market for the first time this year tomorrow morning so let’s hope I’m inspired to get a food post up here soon!! I have missed doing serious cooking!


Pimmit Run

Beginning of last night’s hike:

End of last night’s hike:


Scott’s Run



A month’s worth of April showers are being dumped on us right now. It’s dark, gray, and very, very wet. So here is a picture of falling water in a more appealing format:

From Scott’s Run Nature Preserve.

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Wonton Soup and Kimchi to chase the sickness away…and I love nature!

Warning: the “recipe” for this post isn’t really a recipe and I don’t even have a picture of it. It’s just an excuse to say hello. I haven’t really cooked all month. Mark and I were in Charleston for a week, then he went to Boston for a week for work and came home deathly ill. He’s been home almost two weeks and still isn’t fully better, but at least he’s no longer cycling between being delirious and comatose. The only things he has wanted the whole time he’s been sick are wonton soup and kimchi. Frankly, I’m a little wonton soup- and kimchi-ed out but he’s STILL requesting it. Some nights I fix myself something different because I can’t eat wonton soup six nights a week. But here’s the recipe for making Mark a little happier when he’s sick; it’s actually extremely easy to do:

Wonton Soup
frozen vegan wontons (the Asian grocery stores have many varieties of vegetable wontons that are vegan-friendly, but read the labels)
as much water as you desire broth
vegan “chicken” bouillon – enough for the amount of water you are using
a couple splashes of rice vinegar
a few drops of chili sesame oil
maybe a little soy sauce
if you feel like it, miso

Bring the water to a boil and add the bouillon, vinegar, oil, and soy sauce if you are using it. If you are using miso, scoop some broth out before it comes to a boil and whisk the miso into it, then set it aside. Add the frozen wontons and cook until they are warmed through. If using, stir the miso into the soup. It’s also a great idea to add a lot of grated ginger to the broth, especially if you are serving the sick. Top with sliced scallions if you have them available. And I like to add sriracha to my bowl.

Serve with copious amounts of kimchi. Rather than making kimchi, I bought some. Mark was nothing but grateful to me during his illness, except for telling me I didn’t buy ENOUGH kimchi the first time. But that’s okay, kimchi is really good for fighting germs, so I just went and bought him more.

Yes, I realize this is a ridiculous “recipe” to give you after weeks of radio silence, but believe me, that’s what’s been going on culinary-wise in my house for the last two weeks.

Aside from taking care of Mark when necessary, I have been EMBRACING SPRING. I probably say this every April, but OH MY GOD I have NEVER been so glad to see spring. Last winter was cold, snowy, and STUPID. There is probably some truth to the fact that I’m more glad this year, even over other snowy years, because I feel like I just appreciate life in general more and more all the time. Not that I ever didn’t appreciate life, because I’ve led a happy life, but I don’t know; I seem to actually take the time to be thankful for things more than I did when I was younger. And to that end I’ve spent nearly every day of spring so far in a park, hiking and taking pictures. It feels weird to be sitting inside right now at 5:53, in fact, because I’m usually outside gallivanting around at this time. (I gave myself until 6 to write a post before going out so I’d better hurry up…).

I have felt neglectful of the blog, though. Not that I had any recipes to post, but I still felt as if I wasn’t doing something important to me. SO, I’m going to try to post much more often, BUT until the farmers market starts (next weekend, FINALLY!) and provides me cooking inspiration and/or until the weather turns less AWESOME than its been and I’m not pulled outside like a magnet every night after work until after dark, I’m probably just going to have pictures for you, and they probably won’t be food related. But so as not to be super annoying, I’ll just do one a day. Maybe two…we’ll see how good my self control is. So to start off, I present a few pictures of something that gives folks in this area super spring fever (other than the DC cherry blossoms): Virginia bluebells. The gorgeous usually-blue plant lives in marshy floodplains and is one of the first things to bloom every spring. They peak for a week or so and then they are gone, but while they are around, if you find a place where they are abundant, it’s like being in a wonderland. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. I’ve been bluebell stalking in several places this year, some of them new to me. I’m letting myself post a few more than one picture today just because I’ve been gone a while (and also I can’t help myself when it comes to bluebells).

The pictures tonight are from two parks. The first ones are from Riverbend Park, which I just discovered a few weeks ago (when looking for prominent bluebell locations) and have since fallen in love with. Riverbend has everything: the Potomac River, the Potomac Heritage Trail, woodland trails, a meadow trail, BLUEBELLS, it’s free, AND you can hike into Great Falls National Park, which is lovely, but kinda pricey and the parking lot is often full on really nice days so it’s cool to “sneak” in for free. It’s only about 1.5 miles from Riverbend Visitor Center to Great Falls Visitor Center! I’ve been to Riverbend several times in the last few weeks and love it. And it’s especially great when the bluebells are blooming!

My favorite bluebell spot in previous years has always been Bull Run Regional Park, and even though Bull Run was a near fiasco when I went for my first visit of the year a couple of weeks ago (the trail was so muddy and slick I nearly fell about a hundred times, AND they are doing some water main work that disrupts the bluebell trail in two places and is ugly and constructiony), I have to say that when I returned for the bluebells, it won my heart again. Bull Run is THE best place to see bluebells. If you are local and go nowhere else to see them, go there. I might prefer other parks for other reasons, but for bluebells, Bull Run is #1. There are just ACRES of them. My tip: on the bluebell trail (from the entrance across from the water park), once you get to the water, head left off the trail. There is a very narrow path through the dense bluebells for a while (though it eventually stops), and if you keep going, you’ll find yourself completely surrounded by bluebells for as far as the eye can see. And you won’t run into everyone and their brother walking their dog and taking cellphone pictures while you are off the official path. After enjoying the blue solitude, head back to the trail and finish the loop – it’s all lovely (minus that construction), but there’s nothing like being totally immersed in a carpet of blue.

Okay, I NEED TO GO OUTSIDE now. I will be back, hopefully tomorrow, with another picture or two…although I can’t promise it won’t have bluebells in it.

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Roasted Vegetables with Cippollini Onions and White Balsamic

My favorite stand at the farmers market always has cippollini onions with a sign next to them saying, “these are great roasted!” and every single week I’m suckered into buying them by that sign because I LOVE roasted onions. I made this with potatoes last night, but I wish I’d tossed a couple of chopped carrots in there as well because roasted carrots are also totally awesome and my plate would have been that much more colorful.

Roasted Vegetables with Cippollini Onions and White Balsamic

1 lb cippollini onions, peeled
1 lb other root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, chopped
a couple springs fresh rosemary
olive oil
white baslamic vinegar
flaked salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the onions and chopped vegetables in a pot and just cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 3 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water until cool enough to touch. Place on a pan or in a cooking dish large enough to arrange in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil (about a tablespoon or so) and about a tablespoon of the white balsamic, using your hands to coat every piece. Sprinkle with the rosemary and salt. Cover the pan or dish with aluminum foil and roast for half an hour. Remove the foil and return to the oven for another 20 minutes or until the vegetables are all soft. Drizzle with additional basalmic if so desired.

The brown blob on my plate is barbecued seitan, using a riff on Vegan Dad’s lunch meat. YES, I AM OBSESSED WITH AVOCADOS.

I don’t know about where you live, but the weather in Northern Virginia has been GLORIOUS. I finally got around to getting an annual pass for Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (there is normally a $2 honor system entrance fee) since I’m there all the time. I was very easily talked into joining the Friends of the Potomac River Refuges, which meant I paid $15 for a membership and got $5 off my annual pass, meaning I spent $10 more than planned in order to earn the privilege of doing things like picking up trash! I josh. Although really that’s one of the things I get to do as a “friend” of the refuges (Occoquan Bay is one of three refuges in a complex of three within a few miles of each other, although currently one of them is only accessible by kayak). I must be very easy to read because the volunteer making the sale remarked that as a “friend” I’d have occasional access to areas not open to the public (which, honestly, is about 80% of the refuge, and I’d give myself about a 4 out of 10 on ability to obey those rules). And really I do want to get more involved with the refuges so had I known about the organization, I’d have joined a long time ago. I want to do things like count species for them.

ANYWAY, the weather’s been about a 12 out of 10 all week and it’s the last few days I’ll be able to get into the refuge past 5 p.m., so Wednesday night I was down there again tromping around.

This is the entrance road. The main parking lot is in the middle of the refuge so I’m headed there. The sign says, “Welcome to Your National Wildlife Refuge System,” which always makes me think MINE MINE MINE!

Apparently the refuge’s beaches used to be a tourist attraction until the ’40s, after which the army bought it and used it as a research station until the ’90s, at which time US Fish and Wildlife bought it and allowed nature to reclaim most of it. Remnants of the army installation remain pretty much only in the form of the roads which now form the hiking paths. This is Easy Road, with the sun setting behind me as I hike east:

And this was taken just a little further down Easy Road, but turned around and facing away from the sun:

I’m not really sure where the boundaries of the different water bodies are, but this is probably right about where Belmont and Occoquan Bays merge. OBNWR is located at the intersection of the Occoquan and Potomac Rivers.

I’ll be honest, one of the main reasons I want to be at OBNWR around sunset is because I REALLY want a good picture of a fox and sunset or sunrise will be my best bet. And I see one maybe one out of every three times I go around sunset. But I NEVER get the picture. THEY ARE SO QUICK! (And always jumping over lazy dogs!) It started getting dark fast after I took those sunset pics over the bay(s), so I had to trot back rather quickly to my car, which as I said was parked in the middle of the refuge. So I was trot trot trotting, turned a corner, and found myself face to face with a beautiful red fox, startling both of us. He was actually too close to me! Too close for my 400mm lens to focus on him! Damn it! Here he is running away from me!

To be even more honest: although I want a fox picture bad, I also don’t want one, because I like having a goal. I wanted a turkey picture bad and now I see turkeys all the time and I’m all, “ho hum, another turkey”. (I’m also all, “Ho Ho Ho, Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas?“, one of the three best Christmas songs ever!)

In personal news, yesterday it dawned on me that I might be a hippie, or rather, that other people probably consider me a hippie. I’m not really one for labels. When I wore a lot of black and danced to anything by Depeche Commode, I never once called myself a goth. But I went to a new person for a haircut last night and had the following exchange:

Hair stylist: How often do you wash your hair?
Me: Rarely.
Hair stylist: What do you wash it with?
Me: Some handmade shampoo bar I got from etsy.
Hair stylist: What styling products do you use?
Me: The gel I scrape from inside the leaves of my aloe plant.

I mean, to me, all that sounds perfectly normal. Everything I do seems very normal. But even *I* walked away from that conversation thinking I might be a goddamn hippie. In discussing what sort of cut I wanted, he asked what styling methods I use and I had to confess that the only hair dryer I own is my convertible car. He did his best not to look mortified, but he did suggest about five times that I try switching to a volumizing shampoo. His parting words to me were: “VOLUMIZING MOUSSE!”.

Well, that was probably TMI, so I’m going to go now and don some love beads, switch on the black light, burn some incense, douse myself in patchouli (crap, I have a bar of patchouli soap in my shower; if I wanted to avoid this hippie label I’m not faring very well here), crank up In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (hmm, not only do I own In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, probably half of my music is from the ’60s – it’s getting harder to run from this label), drop some acid, and ruminate on how the man is bringing me down.

I don’t know if this picture makes me a hippie but it is one of the more normal outfits I wore in college. It probably just makes me weird.

In the immortal words of Mark E. Smith:

You don’t have to be strange to be strange. You don’t have to be weird to be weird.

Edited to add: I just learned that Mark E. Smith is on twitter and his tweets are just about what I expected, which is to say, hilarious.

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Brookland Cafe, bluebells, babies (of the raccoon variety), and a trophy for Smark

Although we live nearby, Mark and I rarely venture to DC, which frankly, I do not like. If I need or want to do something in a city, I’ll usually drive up to Baltimore, where I am from, where I know people, where the streets make sense (They are a grid! They don’t look like someone threw a bowl of noodles on the floor and turned it into a map!), and where one is able to park their car. Mark and I lived in DC near Georgetown for a year, and more than once Mark drove home to our neighborhood, couldn’t find parking, and had to drive back to his office and sleep there because there wasn’t anywhere to put his car. Since we moved to Virginia, my forays into DC have been mostly limited to meetings for work, shows at the 9:30 Club (which I love), and occasional trips to the Smithsonian.

This is part of the reason you rarely see restaurant reviews on this blog; DC has plenty of options for vegans, but I’m barely familiar with them because I avoid the place (and I usually insist on Ethiopian when I am there!). But Mark was in a chess tournament near the Mall last Saturday, so after helping raccoons in the morning, I met him out there. After his tournament, we went out to dinner at a new vegan-friendly restaurant, so I thought I’d do a little review. And blab about my life, because you miss that, right?

I’ll go in chronological order, more or less. Mark, brave soul, drove downtown in the morning to register for the tournament, and I did my regular raccoon routine. We have 15 babies right now, but I think it was about 8 last weekend. This is Vinegar, and like Bender, he can’t roll off his back to right himself. (Most raccoons can – Vinegar is too fat!)

Once all the babies were fed and all the cages clean, I took the metro into the city and found Mark, who was doing well in the tournament. I didn’t hang around the chess place, though. I crossed Pennsylvania Ave…

…and headed towards the Mall.

I was hoping to see the rocket Antares during its takeoff, but the takeoff got scrubbed, for the second time, at the last minute. (It finally took off the next day.) I was disappointed, but I did think the Washington Monument looked a bit like a rocket prepared for liftoff with the scaffolding currently surrounding it. (It’s under repairs due to the earthquake we had in 2011.)

Did you know that the Smithsonian owns one of the original Paris metro signs that I loooooooooooove? (Oh, Paris; you pull off crazy streets and a lack of parking with so much more class than DC.)

I wandered around a couple of the Smithsonian’s gardens for a while…

… then headed back towards Mark. I witnessed a duck walking down the sidewalk outside the Natural History Museum. Why??? I guess she walked up from the Tidal Basin, but that seems rather dangerous. In retrospect, I wonder if I shouldn’t have tried to relocate her, although she seemed to know what she was doing.

Mark was outside waiting for me…with a trophy!!! He won every game of the tournament!

We went to Brookland Cafe for dinner because I had read online that they had a vegan menu and I wanted to check out their selection of vegan bar food. And I REALLY wanted a beer (it was hot!). It’s about 3 blocks from the Brookland CUA station. I had insisted we take the metro even though many stops were closed and we therefore had to take a shuttle for part of the way because I’d never been to Brookland and my base assumption for DC is there is no parking, but actually there was plenty of parking. That was around 6:30 on a Saturday; not sure if that makes a difference. The interior:

Mark was starved after his mental exertions, so we ordered an appetizer of jerk “chicken” tenders. These ended up being a veggie burger cut into strips and covered in a jerk sauce. I wasn’t expecting a veggie burger, but the sauce was tasty.

For his main, Mark ordered the mock fish sandwich. The “fish” looked and tasted like the fish filets I sometimes order from May Wah…which is good because we love those things.

I got the BBQ sandwich. This one was Gardein, I think even the sauce.

For our sides, we both ordered the “explosion” fries, which is a mixture of all four fries they have: regular, sweet potato, lemon pepper, and red pepper. Those were fun. Neither of us could finish our sandwiches, so we took the leftovers home. Because they were based on frozen products, it would have been fairly easy to make any of these dishes at home (except maybe the fries), and I prefer go to restaurants for things I can’t easily make at home, however, everything was also very delicious, the service was extremely attentive and friendly, and I like supporting places that have vegan menus, so I would definitely return. If we lived nearby, I could see Mark and I going there regularly for a beer on nights I didn’t feel like cooking. I would very much prefer it if they got rid of the television, though, and used real china and silverware instead of disposable plastic. I’m kind of hoping the latter is just a temporary measure for some reason.

Before I go, can we talk briefly about how much I love spring? One of the highlights around here is the Virginia bluebells. A couple of weekends ago I went to Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area to check them out.

That was extremely pleasant, although I think Bull Run Regional Park is still my favorite place to see them. I missed them there at their peak, but I did head down there one night after work this week.

Although the blanket of blue wasn’t as heavy as it would have been a couple of weeks ago, it was still beautiful.

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Meadowlark Gardens

I have several ideas for posts, but time…is…getting…away…from…me. Aaaaaand we’re leaving for a few days in Puerto Rico early Thursday morning. So although I didn’t have time to put together a food post, I thought I would make a quick post tonight celebrating my favorite month, October, before it’s gone.

I’d been looking for new places to take pictures in Northern Virginia and I read about Meadowlark Gardens in nearby Vienna, and coincidentally they were having one of their biannual “photographer field days”, where they stay open before sunrise to after sunset, the very next weekend! I lucked out with that timing because the hour before and after sunrise and sunset is coveted by photographers as the “golden hour” and this park isn’t usually open until 10 a.m., so I forced my night owl self to get up at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday and hauled myself over there. Not only is 5:30 more a bedtime for me than a wake-up time, but we experienced our first frost of the season overnight and I HATE cold, so this was quite a feat. Sooooo worth it! If you live in the area, Meadowlark Gardens is beautiful, and being there at sunrise was damn near magical. Moreover, I was even happy about the frost, if you can believe it, because the cool color of the grass was an amazing contrast to the warm colors of the fall foliage. I’m so shy that even being in the same park with other photographers is slightly difficult for me, but I quickly got over feeling self-conscious and just felt happy. Not that there was any reason for self-consciousness in the first place because there were maybe 20 other people, all photographers, there and they all said a friendly “hi” in passing but kept to themselves.

I’ll let some of the pictures do the talking from here on out. These are all better bigger so I’ve linked them to at high-res.

I’ll be honest; I don’t often see the sun rise, but every time I do I resolve to do it more often.

Look at that frost. Can the hot, hot, hot summer really be over? It was 39 degrees when I got to the park.

It was so cold there was a ton of mist off the water; it didn’t burn off until around 10 a.m. when I left.

The three pictures above are almost “zooming in”. Really I, not the camera, was doing the zooming, but if you look carefully in the two above this one of the bridge, you can see the same bridge.

Can you tell that Mrs Duck is looking at me inquisitively in this one?

This is essentially the same picture as above, but taken with the “normal” camera and not my infrared one.

The next two pictures are from the Korean Bell Garden area of the park – it’s the only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. I had to restrain myself from ringing – or rather striking – the bell. I know that goes counter to my statement above that I was self-conscious even being in the park, so why in the world would I possibly consider doing something I’m not only sure is verboten, but which would have been extremely loud and ruined the sweet, sweet serenity of the morning for everyone else around me and caused a lot of very unhappy attention to be heaped on me? What can I say, I’m a very curious person. Anyway, I controlled myself. I do want to hear it, though.

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Bitter Melon Stir Fry with Vegan Mince

I guess you could say today has been a typical Saturday. It’s just about 7 p.m. and here is what I’ve done today:

  • Went to a national wildlife refuge to take pictures
  • Dropped some donations off at a thrift store
  • Went to the library
  • Went to the farmers market
  • Sliced and prepared 7 trays worth of fruits and vegetables to be dehydrated
  • Cleaned the old seasoning off of two cast iron skillets
  • Re-seasoned two cast iron skillets
  • Pruned the bushes and pulled the creeping vines off our windows
  • Peeled and prepared a brine for 2 pints of pearl onions (to be pickled in balsamic vinegar tomorrow through the next two months)
  • Made hot sauce from the chiles I’ve been fermenting for the last week
  • Edited photos from the wildlife refuge
  • Went to a national park to take pictures
  • Edited photos from the national park
  • Found a recipe to play with while trying a new vegetable: bitter melon
  • Wrote a blog post about bitter melon

I need a nap. Anyway, yes: bitter melon. I’ve seen it referred to in recipes, usually Indian, so I’ve long been familiar with the idea of it, but I don’t think I’ve ever purchased one. But one of the farmers at my farmers market was selling them and you know I can’t pass that by. I intended at first to use it in an Indian recipe – I even warned Mark about it (he claims he doesn’t like Indian food, although he actually does) – but I’m out of a few Indian spices and need to get to the Indian grocery, so I decided to go in a Chinese direction instead. After some googling, I decided to veganize and adapt this recipe on Serious Eats. Here’s the outcome:

Bitter Melon Stir Fry with Vegan Mince
I don’t know why I turn into a Brit or Australian when referring to the product Americans call ground beef (or ground pork, or ground whatever), but I do.

8 oz bitter melon
4 oz vegan mince (ground “meat”)
2 Tbsp grated ginger
1/4 cup shaoxing wine, divided
3 Tbsp fermented black beans (available in Asian grocery stores; either dried or in a paste/jar is okay)
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp garlic chili paste or plain chili paste
2 tsp black vinegar

So if you’ve never had it, here’s the deal with bitter melon. It looks like this:

It doesn’t look like any Western vegetable I can think of, but it’s related to cucumbers and cooks like summer squash. To prepare it, all you do is cut it in half length-wise …

… and then scoop the seeds out.

For this dish, and most others unless you are stuffing it, you’ll then slice it into half-circles and optionally chop it.

It cooks in about the same time squash does and has a similar texture. It’s not at all like a melon, but it is very, VERY bitter. Also, Mark insists it looks like squid tentacles. I tend to fall into raptures over any new vegetable I come across, but bitter melon is going to have to do some serious work to win me over. I tasted a very small bit before cooking it and quickly realized I’d better make Backup Dinner in addition to Experimental Dinner, so I chopped a red bell pepper and a head of broccoli. I used an entire 14-oz package of Tofurky mince, but used maybe a third of it with the bitter melon, which is why I called for 4 oz above. I also only used a third of the sauce in the bitter melon dish (although I did NOT adjust the measurements above for the sauce). I used the remainder of the mince and the sauce to make a broccoli/pepper/mince stir fry. I’m going to power on and give you the recipe, though, because you might like bitter melon more than I do (although I do not recommend you invite a bunch of people over and serve them a main dish of bitter melon without knowing what it tastes like).

Put the mince in a bowl and add the ginger and half the Shaoxing wine. Shaoxing wine, by the way, is Chinese rice wine. You can sub sake or dry sherry. Mix everything together, then set aside.

Fetch your fermented black beans. Now this is a staple you should keep on hand. They often come in a paste-like consistency, in a jar, but you can also buy them dried, which is what I usually do because they keep longer that way.

Measure them out and put them in a small bowl.

Add the rest of the Shaoxing wine, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, chili paste, and black vinegar.

Heat some oil in a wok or skillet over medium high heat, then add the bitter melon.

Stir fry for a minute or two, then add the mince. Stir fry until the bitter melon is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sauce and combine well.

Serve with rice.

Here it is with the backup dinner I fortunately made. I actually ate nearly all of the bitter melon dish, so I guess I didn’t detest it, but I don’t think I’m going to rush up to bitter melons at the farmers market with the unadulterated glee with which I attack, say, romanesco. I think Mark put 1 mm of bitter melon (a.k.a. squid tentacle) on his tongue, spit it out, and that was the end of bitter melon for him. However, the sauce is good and Mark really enjoyed Backup Dinner. He informed me it had a “good taste,” which he “assumed [I] was going for.” I agreed: yes, I usually do go for “good taste” when cooking. It turns out “good taste” to Mark means “complex, with different layers of flavor.” In this meal, Mark tasted salty, sweet, spicy, and … bitter. It took him a while to come up with the word “bitter”, but I thought it was interesting because I never told him the squid tentacles were really called “bitter melon” because I knew there was no way in hell he’d eat something called “bitter melon”. Yet he was gushing about how much he loves “bitter tastes”, even though “most people don’t”. SO HE SHOULD HAVE LOVED THE BITTER MELON, NO? Anyway, in conclusion, bitter melon is very … interesting.

In other news, today was largely a day of photography, and it follows that you will be subjected to pictures. No animals today; I didn’t get any good animals shots at the wildlife refuge this morning. But Great Falls, on the Potomac, was looking mighty spectacular today. I narrowly avoided a storm, but was rewarded with great light. These look much better in high-res, so if you are so inclined, you can click on them for the full-size version.

From Overlook 2:

Looking in the opposite direction, after the falls:

If you look carefully, you can see kayakers:

From Overlook 3, at a pretty wide angle:

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Garlic Scape Soup

Renae here with an other weather-inappropriate recipe. Actually, that’s not true. Although a nice hot bowl of soup is probably not the most tempting-sounding dish when it’s 100-freaking-degrees out, based on its ingredients – garlic scapes, fresh garlic, new potatoes – this soup is kind of late-spring-to-the-max. One year it’s impossible to find garlic scapes anywhere but the Korean grocery store (where they go by the name “garlic stems”), the next, all the farmers have them at the market, for week after week!

Garlic Scape Soup

1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 bunch garlic scapes, chopped
1 lb new potatoes, chopped
6 cups vegan broth or water + bouillon
1 Tbsp soy sauce
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
optional toppings: drizzle of a flavored oil you like, thinly sliced scallions, vegan cheese shreds, vegan bacon bits, croutons, fried onions or scallions, fresh herbs

My farmers market had fresh garlic – normal cloves of garlic that hadn’t yet been dried – which is what I used. It doesn’t keep as long as your standard dried head of garlic, but it’s an interesting change of pace. I can’t decide if it tastes more or less pungent than the freshest dried garlic, although it’s definitely more flavorful than garlic that has been around too long. It really just seems to taste “fresher” (some help I am, right?). The big difference is just that instead of peeling off thin, dry, papery layers to get to each clove, you peel off thicker, wetter layers until you get to the point you can squeeze each bulb out. You can use whatever kind of garlic strikes your fancy, however.

Heat some oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, then add the minced or pressed garlic and the garlic scapes and cook for another minute or two. If necessary and desired, you can deglaze the pot with a bit of white wine. Then add the potatoes, broth, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Puree with an immersion blender. (Or let it cool a bit and puree in small batches in a regular blender. I, however, don’t trust hot liquids in blenders.) Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. If desired, top with some stuff. Pictured are Daiya cheddar “cheese” shreds, scallions, and vegan bacon bits.

Most of you probably can’t tell because I’ve never put nearly the amount of effort I should be into taking my food pictures, but today’s food pictures are even lower quality than usual. That’s because I took them at work with my phone. I devoured the soup too quickly when I made it for dinner Tuesday night to take a picture, so I took a picture of the leftovers when I had them for lunch at work today. The sad thing is I had my real camera with me – it generally goes wherever I go – but when I went to take the picture, I realized I’d left the battery in the charger at home. AND I’d left all the spare batteries in my other camera bag.

I’ll use this as an opportunity to proselytize about taking time out for lunch at work, though. I know you aren’t supposed to eat at your desk because it’s good to get up, get out, and enjoy a change of scenery somewhere you can’t be tempted to do work while you eat, but we’re a fairly small business without a cafeteria or other appropriate eating place. I could have gone outside, but did I mention it’s 100 degrees outside? Lugging a bowl of hot soup down 8 flights of stairs to eat it under the blazing sun just didn’t seem practical. There is a small table in the kitchen, but eating there just invites everyone who uses the kitchen to talk to you and I don’t like talking to people during my lunch. I like eating my lunch during my lunch. And reading books. So I do eat at my desk, but I log out of the computer, stick my nose in a book, and glare at anyone that happens to drop by to ask me something until they back off and agree to come back later. And I’m a huge fan of making my lunches as nice as I can as a little treat for myself. I usually eat leftovers, so sometimes my lunch is just not that pretty, but I try to dress them up when I can. Today right after lunch I had to do a demo for an application I wrote and I hate, hate, hate, hate, HATE public speaking. However, having a pleasant lunch with a nicely-topped bowl of soup (and, importantly, reading a book instead of freaking out) right before the demo chilled me out and guess what? I didn’t even have one of my usual public-speaking dry-throat choking spells!

In photography news, the other week I went to Red Rock Wilderness Overlook for the first time. I knew it was a small park but I was thinking maybe because it isn’t very popular, I’d run into more wildlife. I also thought it would have nice views of the Potomac. Unfortunately, I’ve been spoiled by the Potomac view at Great Falls so my expectations were set way too high. It was an easy fraction of a mile to the overlook, but all it overlooked was a very still, very brown, rather boring Potomac, partially obscured by a tall fence with lots of “NO ENTRY BEYOND THIS POINT” signs. No rushing falls, no rapids, no interesting rocks, no hawks flying overhead. No crowds of people, sure (mine was the only car in the parking lot), but also no signs of wildlife other than a squirrel or two.

It was kind of boring. What there were, however, were a few agreeable damselflies, who make much better photography sitters than dragonflies. The full size versions of these are much better so I’ve made these two pictures clickable if you are interested.

A slightly different variety. Their face are like robots! They’re fascinating. In real life, this damselfly was about an inch and a half from end to end. They are very tiny; these macro shots exaggerate their size. I think that’s why their little robot faces are so amazing to me – they are little bigger than the head of a pin.

Other than friendly damselflies, the one interesting thing about Red Rock is the ruins that surround the parking lot. They were part of the farm that used to be there 150 years ago. What I assume is the original farmhouse is also still there but it’s not in ruins and in fact is inhabited and private property. So you sort of have to walk through these people’s back yard to get to the trails.

This, I think, was the well house.

One room of the two-room granary:

Outside of the two-room granary:

The ice house is located away from the other ruins and is instead behind the farmhouse.

There was a man working in his garden behind the farmhouse while I was there, which made me feel a little tresspass-y, even though I wasn’t, but I didn’t feel so weird I was unable to grab a picture of his house because I love old houses.

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