Tag Archives: nature

Earth Day 2012

Every day is earth day here in the Bounteous household…but for the rest of the world, Sunday is your opportunity to give back to the planet!  Here are a few ideas to get you started…
Beautify your community.  Take a look at your newspaper, or google around for some ideas and inspiration — many organizations will sponsor tree plantings, beach cleanups, and other volunteer opportunities to get your hands dirty, feet wet and the feeling of having contributed to make your world a better place.  Here in the DC area, the Anacostia Watershed Society will be sponsoring cleanups throughout DC, Montgomery and PG counties.  The Casey Trees Foundation sponsors tree plantings all the time throughout the region.

Commit to learning.  Ever wanted to take a workshop on butterfly gardening?  Composting?  Urban chicken raising?  Earth Day is a great day for your environmental resolutions.

New habits.  Continuing along the new Green Resolution theme…choose one thing for the earth you will start to incorporate into your routine.  Maybe you can commit to meatless Mondays, start recycling, bike to work at least once a week, switch your coffee to shade-grown, fair trade…Rome wasn’t built in a day; choose just one habit to begin with and let it slowly build into a more sustainable lifestyle.

I will be joining some friends this weekend at the Baltimore Eco-fest and hope to check out some of their vendors and activities, such as tree plantings, nature walks and workshops!

How will you be celebrating Earth Day 2012?

-R

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Camping gourmet

It’s been a while since I’ve last updated — the last few weeks have been busy with going out of town, starting a new job, and, oh yeah, that triathlon I think I’ve mentioned before.

But thanks to Irene my plans this weekend vanished and I’ve been holed up inside, watching movies, sipping tea, knitting and making a pot of soup.  So before the power goes out, I better get a few blog entries in!

I think this dreary day is also an apt time to reminisce about my recent camping trip in the Sierra Nevada, where the weather was just about perfect and the scenery beyond words.  Mr. R and I camp several times a year, mostly staying locally though every couple years traveling somewhere distant.

And while there is no experience quite like waking up under the stars, I will say I’m not the most hardcore outdoorswoman I know.  There are just certain amenities I’m not willing to give up — for example, running water.  And of course:  FOOD!

Nope, you will never find anything freeze-dried in my camping pantry.  One of the most satisfying things to me in life is returning to my campsite after a day of hiking, cycling, kayaking, or whatever, to cook a huge meal over the fire.  There’s a certain rewarding feeling of authenticity to know you took some raw ingredients and concocted something delicious without the aid of electricity.  I LOVE it!

Perhaps our most ambitious meal was the time we steamed lobster over our camping stove while in Acadia National Park:

But that was an exceptional example :).  Usually we stick to simple veggie dishes that can be easily assembled and prepared.  Here are a few recent ideas:

Prepare ahead

If you are going away for a weekend, one thing I like to do is make a couple easily transportable dishes that can be made ahead.  My favorite thing to bring is tamales.  These are the perfect camping food.  I mean, they are designed to be portable!  They keep well and can be thrown into your pack for a snack or lunch on the trails.  And they are delicious.

I know I need to devote an entire post to this, but for now, I’ll just point you in the direction of Alton Brown’s episode dedicated to tamales.  He doesn’t have a recipe for a vegetarian filling, but in short, I make a simple mixture of black beans, peppers, onions, chili seasoning, and cheese, all sort of mashed up together.  You can leave out the cheese if you don’t want to worry about refrigeration, but I’ll admit I’m personally not super anal about that.

Simple salads, pasta dishes, and other sides can also be made ahead.  Another idea would be to bring a frozen meal — soup, for example –which serves double duty as an icepack for your cooler as well as lunch or dinner.  Great way to clean out your freezer!

Essential tools

Really all you need is some firewood, foil, and some sort of implement to lift your food out of the hot coals to cook a great meal at your campsite.  But too many times I have arrived to find rainy conditions, wet or unseasoned wood, or otherwise been able to properly start a fire that is good enough to cook on.  Also, boiling water over the fire takes freaking forever, which is not acceptable to me when I wake up and need my coffee!  So it’s good to have a backup:  we have this stove and this one.  The first is a good all-purpose stove for car camping, the second is super easy to use and awesome for trips where you want to pack lighter, or for boiling water for coffee, soup, etc.

I also have this set of cookware and it is awesome, if a little pricey.  If you have the space, a small cast iron skillet is also great to bring along for cooking directly over the fire.  A small spatula, knife, and serving dishes are also necessary.

Basic method

I’m sure my fellow former girl scouts are familiar with the foil cooking method.  You can cook just about anything in this way.  Mr. R will usually prepare some chicken in a foil packet, whereas I cook myself some veggies.  It really couldn’t be easier!

Start your fire and while it is burning down, chop your ingredients and prepare the foil packets.

Pull out a piece of foil and coat generously with a stick of butter.  Layer on your ingredients, season and roll up the edges to seal.

Make sure your fire has some nice hot, but not flaming, coals.  Lay your foil packets directly on the coals.  If your fire ring has a nice grate, it might be easier to use that instead.

Meal ideas

Use both this method and your camp stove to pull together an entire meal!  For breakfast, I will scramble some eggs in a pan on the stove, and in a packet cook some potatoes.  For dinner, make an easy pasta primavera by combining your fire-roasted veggies with some pasta, seasonings, cheese and a splash of wine or vinegar.  A veggie burger or a can of legumes adds some easy protein — wrap the beans with the veggies up in a tortilla and you have a burrito!  Throw that filled tortilla over the grill for a moment and you’ve got a quesadilla. The possibilities are endless!

Here is the pasta primavera and grilled corn I enjoyed while watching the sunset over the San Joaquin Valley while camping in Sequoia National Park:

Cooking over the fire is a labor of love, but that is truly what makes it more worthwhile.  These dishes are simple, but enjoyed en plein air, they are just strangely more satisfying than anything I’ve ever cooked in my kitchen.  I hope to get out and camp again this fall to enjoy the colors.  Until then, I’m stuck indoors, waiting out the hurricane, but in my mind, I’m enjoying the great outdoors!

-R

Backyard wildlife sighting: eastern box turtle

On my hike in the woods last week I came across an abandoned box turtle carapace…but yesterday I happily found a live turtle wandering through my garden.

She was not at all shy when I approached her to take her photograph!

Eastern box turtles are the most common species of turtles on the east coast, a fact which belies their fascinating biology.  They are an extremely long-lived species, and can reach ages of up to 50 years in the wild.  You can approximate their age by counting the number of rings on the scutes, or scales, of their plastron, which is the underside of their shell.

The rings wear off over time so it can be hard to tell, but I would guess that this one is about 10-15 years old.

They will eat just about anything, including mushrooms poisonous to other species, rendering their flesh inedible.  Because of this, the box turtle held a special status in Native American mythology and beliefs.

The box turtle has a unique feature among other species in this region:  its plastron is hinged.  The turtle can retract inside its shell and completely close itself off to predators.  This one is partially shut:

Although box turtles are a common species, their populations are in decline due to habitat fragmentation.  Box turtles have a very strong homing instinct, and, using the earth’s magnetic fields to navigate, will attempt to return to the general area of their birth if they are moved.  This can be dangerous when their territory is bisected or destroyed by roads or other development. If you find a turtle in the wild, it is okay to gently and briefly pick it up — but always put it back exactly where you found it.  If a turtle is crossing a road, do not move it back in the direction it came from, as it will probably just head right back into the street! (Also note that if you do touch a turtle, please be sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterward as they can transmit salmonella).

It is sometimes easy to take common wildlife sightings for granted — but taking a closer look is always worthwhile.  The box turtle is no exception!

-R

Backyard exploration

Yesterday was just the most beautiful fall day, a welcome interlude between two dreadful rainstorms.  So naturally I spent as much time outdoors as possible, exploring and documenting everything I saw…

The black gum in my backyard seems to be the first to start to change colors.

A teeny tiny gray tree frog has taken up residence among my mint plant on the patio.

One of the several green frogs inhabiting my backyard pond.

Stumbled across a native cranefly orchid growing right in my backyard!  Sometimes the leaf is green on top, but it always has the distinctive bright purple underside.  The single leaf appears this time of year, will grow all winter, and wither by spring, after which the flower will bloom in mid-summer.

Shell (carapace) of a former box turtle.  A common species in this region that is sadly in decline due to habitat loss.

Some wetlands controlling the flood waters…definitely needed after this week’s rain!

I believe this is wintergreen, an attractive native (and edible) groundcover.

My dog is thoroughly enjoying our walk in the woods.

I hope everyone is getting outside to enjoy this beautiful weather while it lasts!

-R

Trail running

Pausing for a moment on my run yesterday to take in the scenery

Bored with my usual route, I decided to head to a nearby park to give trail running a try.  While a few miles of paved pathways circle the perimeter of the park, I decided I’d keep things exciting by venturing onto  the unpaved portions that wind through the woods.

And I must say, adding some  fallen logs,  limbs, low branches, and steep valleys and gullies to  my usual routine was a CHALLENGE!  No wonder I kept pausing to admire the scenery and snap some photos with my cell phone!

Baby deer in the forest

Mountain laurel

Wetlands

Running through beautiful scenery was a nice distraction that added an additional meditative component for me, but I am not the only person who has noticed the increased benefits of bringing your exercise routine outdoors.  Some research has shown that outdoor activity — whether it is walking and jogging, cycling, gardening, whatever — can provide significant mental and physical health benefits beyond what one might derive from working out indoors exclusively.

This article indicates that being near a body of water is especially beneficial.  One would think that in my county, which boasts over four hundred miles of coastline, it would be easy to find a body of water, but the fact is the vast majority of this pristine green space has been developed into subdivisions of McMansions and is privately owned.  Though the river I ran along yesterday is literally across the street from me, I had to drive 20 minutes away to gain public access to it.  Four hundred miles of coastline, and only a fraction of it open to the public.

Perhaps the waterfront is prime real estate, but my county is also lacking in public spaces in upland areas as well.  Very few bike trails and areas designated for hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities exist.

Open access to public green space is such an important component of building healthy communities.  It’s not only good for your health to exercise outside, but encouraging bike commuting alleviates traffic, and providing open spaces for citizens to recreate together develops a greater sense of community and connection.  Perhaps building a park is not as lucrative as selling the land to a million-dollar home developer, but it is a long-term investment in the success of the city as a whole.

Right now where I live is not terribly friendly to those of us who like to bike, run and play outdoors.  But maybe some day, if we continue to pressure those in charge, there will be bike lanes and public beaches for all :).