Rest in peace, West Fork, Oak Creek Canyon
This past Sunday I took an early morning hike looping around Courthouse Butte.
Do you know why it is a butte and not a mesa? Because it is taller than it is wide. Here is another, Capitol Butte, shaped roughly like our nation’s capitol:
Here in Sedona, we like to name rocks. This is muffin top:
And of course, what else could this be but rabbit ears:
The wind was blowing, so the birds were keeping low, hidden in the bushes. They don’t like wind, for when everything moves, they can’t see predators. But a Western scrub jay was out. They signal intruders like me with a harsh caw like a crow:
A gray vireo was also out. Their song is a series of chu-weets, lyrical and sweet:
It’s easy to stay on the trail, for the forest service has constructed these ingenious cairns made out of red rock in wire cages. (That’s half of Twin Buttes in the background).
The strawberry hedgehog has a fruit that according to my plant book taste just like strawberries!
You wouldn’t want to eat the yellow berries of this plant, though. This is the silverleaf nightshade. It is an invasive species, often found where there is overgrazing. You wouldn’t think that would be a problem here, but this area’s original name was Big Park, and there were large herds of cattle grazed here.
Here are the berries. Poisonous, but used by native peoples to tan hides and curdle milk into cheese. All sorts of uses for plants.
We’ve had a very dry year. Some say we are starting a drought cycle. For that reason, water is precious to the wild animals. Even a small bit like this will draw deer for miles:
As I rounded the bend, I caught a glimpse of our most famous rock formation, Cathedral Rock:
People who say the desert is barren haven’t been to Sedona!
Yesterday was cold and windy. An anomoly day in our late spring. Unsettling and unpredictable. So what did I do? I cooked! And the birds and the wind kept me company.
Disney and his cartoon rats not withstanding, RATATOUILLE has a long history in the annals of cuisine. The exact recipe for this vegetable melange came from the Joy of Cooking, but, this post will give you, instead, my experiences that afternoon.
Ready? Here we go!
The major ingredients:
First came the eggplant and zucchini. Eggplant has an unusual texture, punky, light-weight, almost like cork. This allows it to soak up all the good juices of the sauce. This recipe called for peeled. The skin is soft and thick, unlike the skin of a potato, which is thin and crispy. Eggplant is filled with tiny seeds. Good thing they are edible, because impossible to get them out!
At this point I looked out the window to my bird feeder and spotted a canyon towhee. What fun! Unfortunately, several window panes and porch screens got in the way of what I saw. Look close.
Back to the ratatouille. After you peel the eggplant, chop up the zucchini and saute both in olive oil. The zucchini remains, well, zucchini, but the eggplant becomes translucent, almost like my mother’s old-fashioned watermelon pickles, which she stopped making when watermelon rinds became too thin to make good pickles. Can you tell which is the eggplant and which is the zucchini?
Oh, look! It is a feeder full of lesser goldfinches!
Back to the ratatouille. After the zucchini and eggplant have cooked, you dump them out of the saute pan into a holding pot and free the saute pan for the next ingredient, chopped onions. My original picture shows red onions for artistic effect, but these are really too strong, so I substituted sweet Walla Walla onions, just so you know:
Oh! Is that a Lady Cardinal? I do think it is:
Now, after the onions have become translucent, add the red peppers–pretend these orange ones are red:
It is windy today. When I went out to fill the feeder, the wind chimes greeted me with music, and when I stepped back inside, the kitchen was filled with wonderful smells!
Where was I? Ah, ratatouille. Along with the onion and red (orange) pepper, you need to add some garlic. The recipe calls for three cloves, but I don’t like a lot of garlic, so I’m only adding two. That’s plenty. You don’t have to peel garlic; just whack it with the side of a knife and the skin separates right off. (This is also a picture of my favorite knife).
While the garlic is cooking….oh! The black-headed grosbeaks are back for the summer. I’ve got about six that visit the feeder, along with the doves and sparrows. This one is the boldest:
Then you add some thyme. Did you know there are over 400 varieties of thyme? Creeping thyme, wooly thyme, lemon thyme. I don’t have a lot of time, so I add some common garden-variety thyme from my porch pots:
A quail! I have dozens that visit the feeder all day long, and they crowd everyone else (well almost everyone else) out of the feeder:
After the thyme add some other spices: bay leave and fresh oregano and basil (these last two I got from my food coop basket) and tomatoes. I didn’t have fresh, so I used canned, diced. Just as good. 🙂
What? Yes! I knew I heard Sir Cardinal out there somewhere as well. Always a joy to see him visit:
The final result, after eggplant and zucchini put back in mix and cooked at low for a while to meld the flavors. It tasted wonderful!
A great way to spend a windy, wild afternoon in the company of good food and good friends.