Tasty Treats

Fern, at her ripe and cynical age of Five, is already totally over living in the country. For our first few months here on the ranch, she couldn’t wait each night to go for our After Dinner Walk. Now, just the mere mention of the word Walk and she has an allergic reaction that results in feverish bursts of No. So on this particular day, it had been a herculean effort to get her to step outside. At each 50 foot marker, there were declarations of boredom and apathy and Let’s Go Back Now. But by the time we made it to the main road, her curiosity had kicked in, and when I asked her if she wanted to turn around or Just go a little ways down the road? she was game.

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We decided to turn around at The Big Curve, where the road bends to accommodate a eucalyptus grove, whose thickly spaced trunks often offer glimpses of an open field and of wild turkeys in a trot. We paused under an old redwood with a funny canopy. Short, broad and thick, the sky and sun above don’t penetrate through. We gazed upwards and I said If I was a fairy, this is where I would live…the words barely out before we both gasped. Turns out, great minds think alike.

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Old Brown

It was a first for both Fern and I. I have seen owls in flight, and at wildlife rescue centers, but for all my time spent traipsing through nature, I had never seen an owl in a tree. We were both so gleeful, laughing in whispers and then quiet in awe.

A few days later we took Jeff to meet Old Brown, and he had the presence of mind to look for the really good stuff…owl pellets. In case you don’t know, owls swallow their prey whole…head, feet, tail and all. The non-digestible parts such as fur, teeth and bones are kept back in the gizzard and compressed into a pellet, which owls then ungracefully yak onto the ground below their perch. It’s one of the best ways to find owls, looking at the ground rather than searching the branches. But the pellets themselves are often hard to see, and can resemble leaf litter or a dirt clump or…poop.

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But sometimes, you get the good stuff…an old pellet that has dried and contains obvious clues about just who met their awful fate.

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Gopher. Some people make a thriving living off collecting owl pellets and selling them to school science classrooms. They are fascinating to dissect.

I just might be the World’s Biggest Fan when it comes to animals (second only to my cousin Katie. Hi Katie!), but I will also say this. Animals are gross.

I offer more proof. Wait for it at :30 secs. (Also, Jeff’s narration = so cute.)

Now that I’ve got you swearing off Thanksgiving dinner, and your appetite running for the hills, let me make it up to you by offering your new…

Favorite Fall Breakfast

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My kitchen has been winter squash central for the past couple of weeks, with brief appearances made by apples and kale and this recipe. It’s weird, and you never woulda thunk it, but I promise it is just the right kind of cozy for your chilly fall morning.

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Breakfast Parsnips
(adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

1 lb parsnips, peeled and cut into very thin rounds
3 T butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
pinch salt

maple syrup

In a large cast iron skillet, saute parsnips and nuts in butter with a pinch of salt over medium heat until the sugars from the parsnips have carmelized and the ‘snips are tender, about 7-10 minutes. Serve immediately with a drizzle of maple syrup. (Adding another sprinkle of salt after the syrup gives it a salted caramel style. I like adding pepper too.)

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Fern thinks cooking parsnips smell like butterscotch.

We’ve had some astounding appearances of rain, the first time we’ve had a rainy November in ever so long. The hills around West County have started to green up, and we are entering our early Northern California Spring. Some of our favorite spring edibles have popped up, and are big enough to forage, which is what we did one early Sunday morning this past weekend.

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They started right outside the front door with marshmallow.

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Sheep Sorrel. Tangy like wood sorrel, full of vitamin c and puckery goodness. A good topper for salads.

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Chickweed. Soothing to both the skin and the digestive tract. Contains vitamin b and iron, and also contains saponins…so don’t eat too much or your bowels might get TOO relaxed. Eat raw or infuse into oil for an healing skin ointment.

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Miner’s Lettuce. My favorite. Succulent, tender, delicious…who cares if it’s full of vitamin c?

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Leo. Full of good humor and love.

There’s been so much rain, that the pond is actually beginning to fill, and the puddles stick around for a couple of days.

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I got excited when I saw this track. With the visible claws, I thought it might be one of the resident foxes…but the placement and shape of the pads tell me it’s from a domestic cat, whose feet sunk in the wet sand.

Speaking of cats, we have the privilege to be cat sitting Petra again, the kitty of a former housemate from our SF days. We are her adopted second family, and she loves us as much as we do her. It’s just what our sweet little home is needing as a finishing touch to our cozy fall days…a purring houseguest.

As Fern says, Life is better with a kitty.

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I am giddy over having a week “off”. No clients, no schlepping to the city, just family, our home, a kitty and a celebration of gratitude. My day can be marked by the important things…the appearance of the scrub jay near the dried sunflowers, the barking of a fox at night, the slenderest sliver of a new moon on the western horizon. Thanksgiving is easy this year.

I experience it every day.

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What are your plans for Thanksgiving? Any recipes you’re excited about? New animal friends that make you happy? Tell me.

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7 thoughts on “Tasty Treats

  1. I’m so happy you saw an owl! I’ve only seen one once and it was exciting! This whole post is so cozy. Makes me excited about this time of year 🙂

  2. oh magical owl! Such pretty plumage. What a treat.

    Today I found a family of curious coal tits and a robin who all kept fluttering around the branches by my head while I stood at a spot where they usually always fly away if anyone comes past. That was quite magical for me.

  3. It’s hard to believe you are foraging spring plants as we watch frost kill everything left in the garden and prepare for snow tomorrow night. Love to see the kids in the garden with baskets. I’ve never cooked a parsnip, but I’m going to try your recipe. Thank you, Mary for another great post. Mother Nature’s name is Mary.

  4. Gosh, your blog is a balm. Breakfast parsnips and Good morning embroidery. I feel like maybe I should have a cup of tea and ponder awhile instead of fortifying myself with coffee and plundering on with my afternoon.

  5. Wow. I finally have the time to immerse myself into this goodness. And what magic. Your life in the city was magic for me, how you were able to seek and find and pull in the elements of the good life you needed and wanted, and now, in this more pastoral setting, it is still magic for me. It’s because you bring it. You attract the magic and basking around in your light we get to have a little residual of it too. Thank you for that, for the owls and the parsnips and the weeds. Especially the weeds 😉

  6. Oh, my. Such wonderfulness. Reading your post over and over through the week, like a children’s tale with adult winks and real recipes. Fern and Leo are somehow of the same family as Miner’s Lettuce, cats and owls. I love love this.

    By the way, this picture of the sleeping barn owl is (as Milla says) pure magic. And it brings me the answer I have been looking for (more magic !)

    I’ve seen a barn owl twice, once in flight at night (I was twelve and walking barefoot on the terrace of the hilly garden, in the South of France), and the second time it was sitting on a branch at the same level as my window (I was twenty, not far from Paris). I stared at the owl and *then* he turned his head at 180 degrees towards me.

    Awe-struck I was, each time :o)

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