Tuesday, June 26, 2007

And the ubiquitous insect. . .

I was delighted that I had brought my camera when I saw the helicopter. . .but of course I had not brought it for helicopters. I had had some slight hope of photographing dragonflies. Instead I was lucky enough to see this beautiful beetle. This one belongs to the Chrysomelidae family. And yes, it really *is* metallic blue.
This brings me to the subject of one of my new favorite websites which is both useful for identifying strange insects and for ooohing and ahhhing over the exceptionally beautiful job some people do of photographing very small creatures:


Some of our younger cousins were up for a visit today so my sister and I drove them out to Brite Lake, the local reservoir, for a walk. There has been a fire burning around Oak Creek (roughly behind the mountains in the picture above) for the past three days (I'm told there are 400 firemen working to contain it). When we chose to go out to the reservoir we hadn't considered the fact that it's one of very few lakes in the area and therefore a logical destination for the firefighting helicopters. In the course of our walk we saw four helicopters (or possibly four trips by the same one) crawling down out of the sky to fill their tanks with water. We had good views of all of them, especially the one in the picture above which, when finished with its filling, passed near enough for us to see the pilot waving.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


For the gluten-free bakers, here is a recipe I recently found and tried. It's super easy and seems to go over well. The original was a winner in a recipe contest by an Oregon newspaper:
Probably the original was excellent, but I didn't have all the ingredients when I tried it, so here's my version:

NOTE: I used some odd soy spread instead of butter because I was baking for people who shouldn't eat lactose. I imagine real butter should be better (although these really were tasty). Likewise, if anyone with nothing to do wants to try the recipe with 2 1/4 cups of all-purpose real flour in place of the the rice and sticky rice flours and the cornstarch and xanthan gum listed below, I'd love to hear about it.

  • 3/4 cup "Soy Garden Buttery Spread"
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (maybe a little more, but almond extract has a pretty strong flavour)
  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1 cup sweet (also called sticky or glutinous) rice flour
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 3/4 cup roasted, finely chopped pecans
  • zest of one lemon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the "butter", egg, sugar, and almond extract thoroughly. Slowly add the dry ingredients to form a very stiff dough. The dough should form one big ball on the paddle of the mixer, hardly sticking to the sides of the bowl (if necessary to obtain this consistency, add more rice flour (either variety) sparingly).

Roll the dough into balls about 1 1/2 inch across (these are rather crumbly when finished, so smaller cookies have a better chance of holding together). Place on greased cookie sheets (they do not fall or "melt" when they are cooking, so you can line them up fairly close to each other) and bake at 375 for 15-18 minutes. The cookies are done when deep cracks appear in their tops; don't bake them much past this point.

Yield: About 25 cookies

Mariposa Lilies

Above are a couple of Mariposa Lilies (family Calochortus). "Mariposa" is the Spanish word for "butterfly"; if the petals on these flowers do not exactly resemble the wing of a butterfly they at least run it some pretty stiff competition. I was reading through one of my plant guides last night and it also explained the family name. Kalo is Greek for "beautiful" and chortos is "grass." I don't quite see the "grass" resemblance myself, but beautiful they are! Locally we have a white and a light purple species as shown above. Supposedly there is also a golden variety but I have yet to see one.

Indian Paintbrush

This afternoon I had the time to do something I had been wanting to do for weeks--drive down and get a few pictures of the Indian Paintbrush. For some reason these flowers don't grow near our house (that I've ever seen) but along the cuts on Banducci Road they are having a pretty good year. It was a "mostly cloudy" day so the coloring in the pictures is not everything it should be.
I'm not sure of the scientific name for these; I know it's in the Castilleja family, but the species is a bit harder to pinpoint. Judging from the pictures in one of my flower books it's at least a close relative of Castilleja chromosa, the Desert Paintbrush. Another of its relatives, Castilleja linariaefolia, is the State Flower of Wyoming. You might not expect that a state flower would be hard to choose, but evidently there was a bit of dissent when it came to chosing one for Wyoming: