Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Saguaro Flowers and Fruit

I did a post on the saguaro cactus in 2010 and I noted that the saguaro has a ruby colored fruit that matures in late June (I just read a source that said late May to early July), but that I'd never been to the desert that late to see them. Well, Judy was out of town this past weekend, so I decided to brave the 108 degree heat of southern Arizona (Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument) for the primary purpose of finding and tasting some saguaro fruit. 

One thing that surprised me was how the fruit production process varied significantly from cactus to cactus. Some saguaro were still blooming (the flowers only open at night), which is the first stage;
The flowers come off the ends.
on some the flower had fizzled and the bulb beneath it was bulging, but still green, the second stage; 
The black ends are flowers that have stopped blooming and their green bases are swelling. The one stem in the middle is still flowering, but the flower is closed during the day. 
some had bulbs that were red and ripe, the third stage; 
Two bulbs, left of center that are ripe. The one to the left is the one I knocked off and ate. 
and some had bulbs that had split open and the inner seeds were falling out or had completely fallen out, the fourth stage; 
These over-ripe red bulbs have split open and the inner seeds are spilling out. 
The two red bulbs that look like flowers have opened up and completely lost their seeds. The other bulbs only look partially ripe. 
and on some, the remains of the fruit had fallen of the cactus and were lying on the ground around it. the fifth stage.
These fruit fragments and seeds were laying around the saguaro I got my fruit from. 
I went to the Tillotson Peak turnout and walked among the saguaros there and did not find any that had ripe fruit. Driving in I'd seen a number of saguaros with ripe fruit and decided that the best way to find ripe fruit would be to drive the main road slowly looking for them. I eventually spotted a saguaro with some beautiful red fruit on it and it looked relatively low to the ground. I got to the cactus and found red debris around it, left-overs from fruit that had ripened and spilled their contents of seeds. My hiking pole was way too short to reach the fruit, so I searched for a dead saguaro and pulled out some of the internal staves to use as poles. These were just long enough to touch the fruit, but not long enough to exert enough pressure to remove them. 
I pulled several staves off this dead saguaro. They weren't long enough, so I found a longer dead saguaro. 
So I searched and found a longer dead saguaro that had staves long enough to reach the fruit. The staves were long and wobbly and were not strong enough to push off the fruit. So I had to swing the staves back and forth and eventually dislodged the piece of fruit I was after, bit by bit, in a back-and-forth motion.
A piece of ripe fruit.
I was surprised that the fruit was mostly spine free and about the size of a large turkey egg. I used a knife to easily split it in half, lengthwise, and was a little taken back by how dark red the inner fruit was. It consisted of hundreds of seeds in a consistency almost like mushy watermelon with small fish eggs and a slightly sweet taste. 
The fruit cut in half.
The fruit roughed up a bit to reveal its texture.
One-half with the seeds removed.
An inside and outside picture.
I was not craving more, it was not worth the additional effort, but I was very happy I'd tried it. It was certainly not bad or gross. 
Fruit in various stages.
A more distant view of the saguaro I got my fruit from. 
Later, when I visited the Visitor's Center one of the rangers took me out back and showed me a saguaro fruit stick that they use to knock the fruit off a saguaro. It was a much more sturdy wood stick than the one I used, and had a wood cross bar at the top for wedging the fruit in and enabling a good push to knock off the fruit. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Zebra-Tailed Lizard - Organ Pipe 2017

The zebra-tailed lizard loves open sandy gravel and heat. In two of my visits to Organ Pipe Cactus NM this year I've visited Quitobaquito Spring, a rare oasis in the Sonoran Desert, and found zebra-tailed lizards both times in the sandy gravel near the foliage generated by the spring water. 
On the sandy gravel near Quitobaquito. Note that the tail and the toes on the hind feet are in the air. 
Note the front toes are in the air as are the back toes as well as the rest of the body. 
In looking closely at my pictures it becomes apparent that one of the lizards is minimizing its contacts with the ground. Its tail is in the air, its torso is in the air and the toes on all four feet are in the air. It makes sense that the lizard is minimizing contact with the ground to reduce the amount of heat it is absorbing.

Another of the lizards is resting on a rock and I was able to get photos of it from a number of different angles. It is a male with two black belly stripes and some yellow and turquoise blue near those stripes, as well as some orange.  
The belly colors are stunning.
From the front it almost looks like Kermit the frog. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Coues Deer

The Coues or Arizona white-tailed deer is a subspecies of the white-tailed deer found in southern Arizona, mostly the southeastern part, southwestern New Mexico and Mexico, including all of Sonora and portions of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Nayarit and Durango. It is named after Elliott Coues, a naturalist, pronounced "cows," but almost always said "coos." It is the second smallest subspecies of white-tailed deer, after the Key deer of the Florida Keys, with bucks rarely weighing more than 100 pounds and does averaging about 65 pounds. Their eyes have white halos around them, their muzzle a white band across it, and a broad tail with a white underside and gray to reddish-black on top. 
Coues deer between Diablo Mountains and Ajo Mountains in southern Arizona. Note the white eye halos, white line on the muzzle and reddish flag tail. 
They inhabit "desert islands," the mountain ranges of the region, usually from about 3,000 to 9,000 feet elevation. Some consider it the hardest big-game animal to hunt and call it the "grey ghost," because of its ability to vanish from view in a small amount of cover. Jack O'Connor, the Shooting Editor of Outdoor Life magazine for 31 years, which I subscribed to as a youth, called the Coues deer the "most difficult of all deer to kill" because it is so wary and is found in such difficult and inhospitable habitat.  
Examples of them using ground cover to hide. 

Good luck spotting this one. It is to the left of the photo. 
I was in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in mid-June where the daytime temperature was 108 degrees. I took the Ajo Mountain Drive at about 6:00 a.m., when the temperature was in the high 70s or low 80s, and had just crossed over the Diablo Mountains and was heading up toward Arch Canyon in the Ajo Mountains when a deer spooked in front of me and ran for cover in the thick creosote bushes, interspersed with saguaro cactus and chain-fruit cholla. I stopped the car and got out with my camera and got intermittent views of two does hidden in the creosote, often looking at me and usually quite hidden by vegetation. They did not spook, but ambled away quite casually, but also quite well camouflaged. I've been to Organ Pipe about 15 times and these are the first deer I've ever seen there. 
Raised white flag as the Coues deer ambles beneath a chain fruit cholla. 
Another shot of the flag.
A short drive forward, maybe a quarter mile, I spotted a coyote off the side of the road. I only got a very poor, blurry picture of it. 
Poor picture of a coyote. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Elk Rib Chops - Sous Vide

I've eaten a little bit of elk in the past, but only once had I eaten a choice cut, an elk chop at the Blue Bell Lodge in Custer State Park, South Dakota. It was a great piece of meat, but it was a little tough and a little bit more rare than I would have preferred. 
Some wild elk in Custer State Park, South Dakota.
Recently I was at Exotic Meat Market in Grand Terrace and found a rack of elk chops that was imported from New Zealand - pasture raised and grass fed. I've been experimenting with my sous vide and I'm getting pretty confident at cooking steak with it. I decided to get the elk chops and give them a try. 
The elk chops out of the package.
The elk chops sliced into individual steaks.
I vacuum sealed the elk chops after I'd added salt and pepper and some butter. I cooked them at 55 degrees Centigrade for 2 and a half hours. 
After being cooked sous vide. 
After I cook them sous vide I put them in a sizzling hot frying pan and browned them on each side, then ate them. The first batch I browned in camel fat and served them with fried shishito peppers, fried garlic cloves, baked and fried potatoes and fried onions. The chops were cooked perfectly, still nice and rare, but not as tough or stringy as the South Dakota elk I had. 
Frying the chops in a hot skillet to brown them and create a nicer outer texture. 
Elk chops - nice and rare in the middle. 
A chop by itself. 
The next night I warmed up another bag of elk chops in the sous vide, at the same temperature, and fried the end product in a frying pan with butter. One of the nice things about sous vide cooking is that you don't over-cook the meat, so warming it up again does not de-grade or over-cook the meat. For this meal I had some more shishito peppers, some of my left over potatoes, cut into slices and fried in butter, and a steamed artichoke with butter and mayonnaise. The elk chop was as good as the night before and I did not notice any significant difference between the frying in camel fat verses butter. 
Elk chops fried in butter.
The sous vide is a marvelous way to cook leaner cuts of meat, like elk. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Goat Head Soup

Some time back one of Anshu Pathak's workers at Exotic Meat Market gave me the head of a goat that they'd slaughtered at Anshu's farm. Judy went out of town last night so I thought it an opportune time to try goat head soup, something I don't think she would have appreciated. 
The head was already skinned, leaving very little preparation. 

Googling recipes for goat head soup I learned that the Rolling Stones had an album, "Goats Head Soup," that included one of their number one songs, "Angie." That album dominated the search results. The next search result with the most hits was Jamaican Mannish Water which is a goat head soup that also includes the feet, testicles and other parts of the goat. It is supposed to be a powerful aphrodisiac and what the Rolling Stones album was named after. The third topic in terms of hit results was for a Nigerian spicy goat head dish. Ultimately, I was able to find bits and pieces that were helpful in what I wanted to prepare, such as an article in The Prairie Star

The basic concept was to put the goat head in a pot of water and get it boiling, then lower it to a simmer for three hours. Remove the goat head, extract the meat from it, then put the meat back in the pot with various root vegetables for another 30 minutes. 

I initially planned to break open the skull with a mallet before cooking it. I hammered away for awhile and decided it was not going to work well (I think they used an ax or a saw in Morocco to split the sheep heads). However, I did create a hole in the head which later provided access to the brain that would have been more difficult without it.  
For root vegetables, I used 7 potatoes, 3 large yellow beets, 3 onions, half of a butternut squash, corn cut off two ears of white corn, and some carrots. I added beef bouillon, dried roasted garlic slices and granulated garlic. 
After simmering for three hours, the goat head separated quite easily. The jaws came apart with hardly a pull and I was able to pull the brain out through the hole I'd made with the mallet. 

The eyes were large and intact and pulled right out. I salted one and plopped it in my mouth. It was just as good as the lamb eye I ate in Morocco last year. It had a pleasant mouth feel and nice taste, but the mental challenge of eating it is substantial. Eating the eye of the lamb in Morocco last year helped the mental aspect a lot. This time it was not a problem. I saved one eye for the soup.
The tongue pulled right out of the skull. I cut the outer skin off the tongue with kitchen shears and the skin pulled right off. I sliced up the tongue and added it to the pile of meat I was creating. The brain came out in sections and I pulled it into smaller pieces and added to the meat pile, which by the time I finished was quite significant. 
The tongue and both eyes.
The tongue, after the skin has been removed, and one eye.
The pile of head meat ready for the soup. 
By the time I got the meat in the pot the root vegetables were soft, so I only left the meat in for about 10 minutes before dishing up a bowl of soup. 
Goat head soup.
The final result was quite good. The vegetables were soft and plentiful, I particularly liked the sweet corn that still had a pop to it. The meat separated into the soup quite well and had a decent texture and a nice taste, nothing off-putting about it. 

Eating sheeps head in Morocco last year really helped me with the mental aspects of eating head meat (brains and eyes particularly). The goat head really was not much of a problem for me mentally. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Capitol Hill and We, The Pizza - Washington, D.C.

After our visit to Mt. Vernon we drove back into Washington, D.C. to visit Capitol Hill. First, we visited the Library of Congress which is just east of the U.S. Capitol Building. The inside is stunning, with beautiful Corinthian capped columns holding up vaulted ceilings painted in bright orange, yellow, red and green. 

We viewed the reading room, from a glassed in viewing platform, with garishly colored columns and walls surrounding  a circular floor of lamp-lit desks. Judy, a library rat from a young age, was enthralled. The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, the modern version of the Library at Alexandria which had such a profound impact on the intellectual development of our civilization. 

We walked north, just next door, to the U.S. Supreme Court Building. A news crew, which apparently waits there in perpetuity for breaking news, was munching on sandwiches and trying to stay out of the searing sun. 
U.S. Supreme Court
We crossed the street to the west and walked up to the U.S. Capitol Building, surrounded by security. Some sort of protest group, I believe against abortion, had a loudspeaker and spoke to virtually nobody, while they filmed themselves. 
The U.S. Capitol Building from Pennsylvania Avenue, near the Newseum.
The U.S. Capitol Building from the other, east, side.
We walked south to Independence Ave SE and then followed a diagonal turn onto Pennsylvania Ave SE toward our car. There we encountered We, The Pizza, an amazing looking pizza joint, which coming from me is unusual, because I do not really like pizza. They had 10 to 15 large pizzas on a glassed in counter, most of which I would like to have tried. These were not the typical pepperoni and cheese pizzas that dominate the market. They were awash in ingredients: big pieces of meat and vegetables and thick with cheese. Just go to the website and look at the menu and put your cursor over the individual pizzas, you'll see what I mean. Judy, still agog that I was interested in pizza, let me choose a large slice that we had cut into halves. I picked the Capitol Supreme, which was covered in mozzarella, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, onions and sausage. We each also got a soda, which they made in front of us. She got pineapple and I got strawberry lemonade. It started with a spritz which I believe consisted of club soda and the base ingredients we each ordered, then fruit was added and it was combined in a blender. Very, very good. I would actually go back again if we lived in D.C. It was good.