Sooty shearwaters feeding in the surf (everything eats)

Sooty shearwaters feeding in the surf (everything eats)

Each summer flocks of sooty shearwaters fly low over the Monterey Bay, diving and squawking as they feed on masses of bait fish – anchovies, sardines, squid, and krill – that school just below the water’s glistening surface. You see them coming in the distance, an impressive mass a mile or more in length; thousands of birds flying low over the water forming a cacophony of feathered missiles plunging headfirst for food.

First fish

First fish

A quick stop at Day’s Market for a bag of ice was the daily de rigueur in the sailboat days of our early marriage. No refrigerator on the Ericson 30 we called home, just a deep insulated box under the speck of formica counter that needed constant replenishment to keep our chardonnay chilled and sundries shivery. It had been a long time since I’d even glanced at that sign – a grow-the-baby-to-the-cusp-of-his-twenties length of time, and stopping there again that Saturday morning for a bag of ice made those memories misty and my nostalgia shivery. It wasn’t the time or place to reminisce, though; I had a date with a salmon. This email, from Fisherman Frank of the Gayle R, came late one Friday, 4 or 5 days after the opening of commercial salmon season: Dear Salmon Fans, Plenty of fish, but the early bird always gets the worm!  (No earlier than 10 o’clock though, please). The cost is $10/lb for the whole fish.  Frank will filet and/or steak the fish for you.  Please remember to bring an ice chest. Cash is preferred, but local checks are OK.  If you don’t think you want a whole fish (average is 11-12 lbs), find a friend to split one with you.  Can’t beat the price!! Thanks ~ see you at E-dock! I was a newbie on his list, the one he sends when he’s on his way back to the harbor with a fresh load of live Dungeness crab, so didn’t realize his repertoire included salmon. Who could resist the lure of the freshest, local-est, line caught fish around? Not me. I was there by 10am after a stop at the bank, the...
A wasp’s dinner (everything eats)

A wasp’s dinner (everything eats)

This one may get the icky props. Thanks to my my friend Teresa McGrath, I got to see something out of the ordinary – in my world, at least. She writes: Survival of the fittest at its best. I was sitting by the pool and watched as this wasp grabbed (yes, with all of its legs like a bear hug) this caterpillar off of the plant next to me. The wasp chewed into it until its guts came out – the black stuff – and then ate some. This photo is of him finishing off the back end of the poor guy. Fascinating. Fascinating but kind of ewww. It reminds me of the time we’d been vacationing in the Sierras, a family trip. We were in the car driving home and LL got a pained look on his face and said he got a bite. He pulled over on the side of Highway 4, stuck his hand inside his shirt over his shoulder, and came out with a handful of green caterpillar goo. It was kind of...
Food for the soul

Food for the soul

Seen on my lunchtime walk at the beach: a yellow school bus parked next to a red fire truck, bus driver and firefighters all perched on the low storm wall, alternately sipping coffee, crunching apples, rummaging through coolers, watching the water, waiting for us to need them. Contractors sitting in their pick up trucks, some eating, some holding cell phones to their faces, also gazing out toward the water. A mom’s boot camp taking over a few parking spaces: t-shirt clad women sweating through crunches on blue or purple yoga mats rolled out on the asphalt next to their babies in strollers, attention directed toward a handsomely built man who counts down from 30 and calls out encouraging words. They stop for a few minutes at the nearby drone of a small plane and watch it climb and loop in the sky, practicing contrail cursive.   I walked past an elderly couple sat sharing a sandwich at one picnic table; at another, a group of students were gathered around a laptop. I nodded hello to a Franciscan nun in her full black habit, to two Hare Krishna women with shaved heads and saffron robes, and to a young Amish couple pushing a stroller – she in a long indigo dress and white bonnet, he in black pilgrim hat with a long beard. People from different walks of life, all proudly wearing their faith on their sleeves. I walked past the large Samoan man we often see, clad only in blue track shorts, sweating profusely and grinning broadly at me in recognition. Past a thin man riding his yellow unicycle with a...

Who figured out a beaver’s behind tastes like raspberry?

By now you may have heard, thanks to Jamie Oliver and Dr. Oz, that castoreum is a natural flavor behind some of the products we consume. I use the word “behind” literally, since castoreum is the product of a beaver’s anal glands. Castoreum is totally unique, chemically speaking, to the beaver – not to be confused with that stinky defensive spray that comes from a skunk’s anal glands, or reason dogs walk in circles sniffing each other’s rear ends. Same place, different thing. Urban myth or no?

Is making dinner getting boring? How about glowing sushi?

I know a few things about zebrafish, much of it from writing Animalfish Alphabet. I know that they are small, non-aggressive, inexpensive aquarium fish. They are native to Southeast Asian rivers and streams. They easy to breed and produce transparent embryos, so scientists love to study them. They were the first fish in outer space. Our bala sharks think they are a tasty treat. You have a chance to see if zebrafish are a tasty treat, too, if you live in a state that allows the sale and possession of GloFish®. If this is for real, you’ll have an interesting conversation dish at your next dinner party. Assuming your guests don’t mind reading the advised safety essay that begins, “Are Transgenic Fluorescent Zebrafish Safe for Humans?” Go ahead and watch the video – it’s only 2:22 seconds out of your life. I guarantee you’ll be amused – unless you’re horrified.   I’m going to pass. My boys are already scared of Jell-O.  ...
Algae burger on rye, anyone?

Algae burger on rye, anyone?

You will probably never deliberately order an algae burger on rye, a bean-and-algae burrito, or an algae caesar salad. But a day will eventually come when you will be inadvertently making algae a part of your diet: How can this be, you wonder? Start by enjoying this cool stop-motion animation, an illustration of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules created by the team of Marija Jacimovic and Benoit Detalle for an RSA competition: embedded by Embedded Videovimeo Direkt (Did you like it? Help them win by voting here.) In the video, Pollan made the point: In 2008, which was a year of supposed food crisis, we grew enough food to feed 11 billion people. Most of it was not eaten by humans as food, however; a great deal of it was fed to animals, about half, to feed our meat habit. And a great deal, especially in the United States, was fed to automobiles, because we’re driving our cars on food right now. We hear that meat takes an enormous amount of resources to produce –  water, land, crops, pesticides, fertilizer – all tied up in feeding the animals to get them all nice and fat and ready for us to eat. Wouldn’t it be great if that could all change? If we could figure out a way to feed our warm-blooded protein sources without sacrificing clean water and whole grain for humans? To really have our cake and eat it too? An article today in Grist by Claire Thomson discusses how that may come to be. Researchers are figuring out a way to substitute algae-based animal feed for corn and soy-based feed...
How to stuff a wild zucchini

How to stuff a wild zucchini

The zucchini have gone completely wild this year. It didn’t start out that way; they were actually slow to grow. I planted the 4″ starts the second week of May; by the third week of June they’d barely doubled in size. So I worked a handful of Dr. Earth into the soil and got the drip irrigation going. Drip, drop, drip, drop, 1 gallon psi for 30 minutes every other day. With a week 3 foot high stems sporting dinner plate-sized leaves waved high in the air. One day I found a monstrous 3 pound zucchini I swear hadn’t existed the day before. I went away the second week of July and, returning home, discovered the zucchini had gone completely wild. They’d snuck out of their raised bed, crowded out the cucumber and spinach, and sported platter-sized leaves. Hidden underneath were dozens of tastefully-sized baby zucchini . . . dinner! I’d just been reading the Southwest Airlines flight magazine featuring this recipe for zucchini carpaccio recipe, so we were on. I didn’t worry too much about arranging the thinly sliced squash in lovely pattern on the plate, just sliced, sprinkled drizzled, and ate – and it was so good! Dinner from the garden – a fantasy coming true. We’ve made it several time since, occasionally using white balsamic vinegar and leaving out the olive oil and lemon, depending on what’s handy. Then we started harvesting zucchini blossoms – they’ve starred in over a dozen meals over the last 8 weeks – and they really are the best part of the plant.  We’ve eaten them stuffed with mozzarella and chives, dredged in...