Monday, September 17, 2012

Reasons We Love Lindsey Wildlife Museum

Location really is a big reason we love this place.  Just around the corner from our house and connected to Larkey Park in Walnut Creek, means many times we wander into the museum on park days, or just cruise by to say "Hi" to the turkey vulture in her cage or see if the other raptors are exercising in the yard.

My 3-year old adores watching procedures in the hospital viewing area and playing the interactive computer games and simulations.  I have found the docents to be engaging, articulate, and passionate about what they do.  I love that teenage volunteers are animal ambassadors leading many of the meet-and-greet sessions with the hamsters, snakes and other creepy crawlies.
We've enjoyed the mini classes and activities offered, such as guided nature-walks within 20 minutes of the museum.  Both my son and I are learning to identify the natives plants and animals in our area.  For example, have you ever seen one of these hanging from an oak tree and thought it was a nut?  Nope.  It's a wasp gall.
It's the kind of wholesome activity that pleases our little and his grownups!  I think he really feels it's his museum and I look forward to the day when he can volunteer there!

One of the main reasons I recommend this place even to my West-of-Caldecott-Tunnel friends, is because a family membership at the Lindsey Wildlife Museum will run you about $65 per year.  Even if you never cross the doors after a first visit, you can reap the benefits of their agreement with the Oakland Zoo which allows you free admission to the Zoo and discounts at other cool places all over California and the rest of the U.S.  A savings of at least $30 over a Zoo membership.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Soaked Farro Beef Carrot & Kale Stew

Admit it, I am not the only one staring blankly at the refrigerator and pantry 1 hour before dinner praying for inspiration.  And then Googling the ingredients for that inspiration.  But, I'm not a by the recipe cook.  So when I find a recipe that sounds interesting, I just scan through the main ingredients and then go for it.  Not a lot of measuring and absolutely no running to the store for extra ingredients.  That's against the rules. :)  Cooking is one of my few artistic outlets - even though I don't think I am very good at it per se.  I just like the Zen of actually doing it.  When it's tasty to boot, then everyone is happy.  Fortunately, dinner tonight was tasty, so I want to write it here so I don't forget it.

I've had some beautiful farro in the pantry for months now.  It's been patiently waiting there as I mulled over whether something from the whole grain wheat family was actually something I should be serving my family right now.  Crisp fall mornings and pregnancy cravings have overrun any grain fears for now, but I still proceed with caution, favoring naturally fermented sourdough, gluten free flours, and soaking what isn't soured.

So here's the approximation of what I did for dinner tonight...It turned out yummy!  As I don't measure much when I cook, the amounts are estimates.  Scan for inspiration and proceed at-will.  :)


1 cup soaked farro (overnight with a splash of ACV)
2 quarts lamb stock (beef stock would be great)
1 lb cubed beef (lamb would be great too)
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tomato, pureed
3 medium carrots cut into bite sized pieces
few sprigs fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
splash of port wine
salt and pepper to taste
handful of chopped kale (optional)

1)  Place cut carrots into simmering stock.  After a few minutes, add the soaked, drained and rinsed farro to the stock as well.

2)  Heat a dutch oven or other heavy bottomed soup pot to medium-high heat and then add cubed beef to brown. Don't stir too much, just let it brown up nicely.

3)  When the meat is nicely browned on all sides, add some sea salt (to taste) and the diced onions and minced garlic.  Stir to get a saute on the onions and garlic, but keep it from burning. Just a few minutes.

4)  Add a splash of port to the pan and then the pureed tomato.  Bring to nice bubbly simmer at the same medium-high heat.  Let the tomato reduce a little - about 5 minutes.  

5)  Carefully pour the simmering stock, carrots and farro into the meat mixture.  Add spices and let the whole batch come up to bubbly simmer and then turn down heat and place lid.  Simmer approx 30 minutes.  

6)  At the end, check for salt and then toss in the kale a few minutes before removing from heat.

The farro thickens up this stew very nicely and it makes it so hearty and satisfying.  Great with a side of sourdough slathered in pastured butter!

Bouillon Leather in the Dehydrator

Best thing I've done with my dehydrator in recent memory....

Procured a beautiful Diestel Turkey at Lunardi's for $3.29/lb.  For $30, I think I get my value out of this large bird for my family of 3+.  But I tried something that turned out to make that turkey keep on giving!

The usual MO is to brine and roast my turkeys, enjoying one or two hearty dinners with the usual fixings and then saving all remnants in the freezer for future meals.  The carcass goes straight into the crock pot for turkey broth which usually gives me about 2 1-quart containers of nutrient rich broth to freeze.  My problem is the defrosting part.  Ugh.  Ever been that mommy with a huge lump of broth GLACIER (shaped suspiciously like a yogurt tub) half-melted in an otherwise rip-roaring stew or chili?  Fervently poking and prodding it with a wooden spoon saying "MELT, MELT..."?  Yah, and remember the definition of insanity....?

So instead of being insane, I tried something new...which could have wasted all that glorious turkey broth I suppose...but it didn't!  It turned out to be bouillon leather that I keep in my cupboard and use like cubed bouillon, but without MSG or other mystery ingredients.  When I need a piece, I use kitchen shears to snip off the pieces.  I haven't got it mathematically figured out how much to use when I cook - but I don't cook that way anyway...just keep adding till it tastes right.

Here are the steps I used:

1. Made turkey broth/stock as usual with whole carcass in my crock pot.
2. Next day, strained the stock into a regular stove top pot and simmered with lid off till it was almost gone.  It appeared like syrup at this stage.
3. Let it cool a bit.
4. Poured into one fruit rollup tray of my Nesco Food Dehydrator.
5. Dehydrate overnight.

Final product: