Fiddlehead Ferns

Fiddlehead Ferns

You know how a few childhood memories become so indelible that they just stick with you for the rest of your life? One of those memories for me is of fiddlehead ferns. We were on a family vacation in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada (great vacation destination, by the way!) and were strolling through the farmer’s market. I was about ten years old and one of the farmers ‘gifted’ me with a sample of a fiddlehead fern to try. I remember taking a small bite and finding it so bitter that I couldn’t be polite and just spit it out right in front of him! (Hopefully, being a kid, he cut me some slack.)

I had never seen or heard of a fiddlehead since that fateful day and, quite frankly, wasn’t the least bit bothered by that.

Two weeks ago, I was doing the grocery shopping at Whole Foods and saw fiddlehead ferns in the produce section for the first time since that questionable Canadian adventure. Needless to say, I walked right by and didn’t give them another thought except to think to myself “Yuck!”….until I got home.

There on my Facebook news was a post from my brother-in-law that he had fiddlehead ferns! I couldn’t tell from the post if his was a statement of excitement or disgust so I asked. He hadn’t cooked them up yet but was planning to grill them that evening. That was just the impetus I needed to give fiddleheads another try.

Back to Whole Foods….

170520-sauteeing-fiddleheads_cattail-studio-artsWe blanched them in some boiling salt water for a minute or so and then sautéed them with some fresh garlic and olive oil. They were actually good! I wouldn’t go out of my way to acquire them as a springtime delicacy but I will no longer avoid them if they cross my path again some day. As the clean plate demonstrates, they are no longer a “yuck” in my book!

Clean Plate Club!! (Plus I forgot to take a photo while plated.)

Clean Plate Club!! (Plus I forgot to take a photo while plated.)


Posted in Food, Kitchens, Sides, The Rest of the Americas, Travels | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Planning Ahead Pays Off

When many folks think of a first-time visit to California, it doesn’t always occur to them while they are planning and packing that it isn’t sunny and warm everywhere in the state all the time. That is kind of how movies and television paint the climate in the state but, if you stop to think about it, California is shaped like many a Hollywood star – tall and slender. If you were to flip the state over to the east coast, its coastline would run from roughly Georgia to Rhode Island. You wouldn’t plan and pack for a trip to Rhode Island the same way you would for a trip to Georgia. The same is true in California. Depending on where you are headed, conditions can vary greatly.

View of Lassen Peak from the Passenger Seat

View of Lassen Peak from the Passenger Seat

One beautiful but potentially fickle destination in the northern half of California is Lassen Volcanic National Park. Given that the main Kohn Ya-mah-nee Visitors Center sits at 6673 ft elevation and there is only one road through the park, unless you are prepared to ski or snowshoe in and out, your visit will depend on whether or not that road is open. The only truly certain months are August and September. Looking back through the records, the road frequently opens in mid-June but there have been a few years where it was still snow-covered and preventing park access until the third week of July! And, on the other end of the season spectrum, the road usually becomes buried in snowfall sometime in November or December, but there are several times when the snow brought things to a close as early as the third week of October.

The year we ventured off to Lassen, there wasn’t a lot of snowfall and the road was opened by mid-May. Perhaps this was a result of the latest drought. I don’t know. Whatever the cause though, we seized the early opportunity to go hiking and check things out before the summertime crowds.

As you can see from the photo, there wasn’t much snow left at 10,463 feet atop Lassen Peak. Driving the highway from one end to the other, we were able to stop and check out the highlights along the way. We took a five-mile hike to check out one of the falls and a loop trail to explore the geological activity from the last time Lassen Peak erupted in 1915.

Temps were warm and we enjoyed lovely hiking in the park. In fact, usually in the first days after a mountain park opens after the winter, you should expect the trails to be muddy and experiencing runoff but there was none of that. Hiking conditions were superb – great temps, perfectly maintained trails, not a lot of hikers and beautiful scenery. A lovely pearl in the string of national parks found in California that you should make the effort to visit if you haven’t already.

Off to Explore Subway Caves

Off to Explore Subway Cave

In the evening, we found a campground a few miles outside of the northern entrance to hunker down for the night. After setting up camp and enjoying our dinner by camp stove (no fires allowed in many places due to dry, drought conditions), we wanted to go for another short hike so we headed off to follow a sign across the highway from the campground toward Subway Cave. What a totally unexpected yet totally awesome surprise!

We were very far from any metropolitan area so Subway Cave is not some abandoned mass transit station in the woods. Being very close to an active volcano, Subway Cave is a 1/3-mile lava tube formed from a past eruption that you are free to explore on your own. It is completely self-guided! Of course, day or night doesn’t matter; it’s really dark down there no matter what the time is.

Inside the tube, there are reflective arrows that you can follow with your flashlight. (Note: This is NOT doable with a cellphone flashlight. You need the real deal.) There are also a few signs that are brilliantly marked with reflective tape that explain what you can see as you look about in the tube.

Like Lassen Volcanic National Park, Subway Cave is also a California destination that isn’t the stereotypical sunny and warm all year long. Rather, it is a constant 46 degrees Fahrenheit so, along with those flashlights, remember to bring the jackets! Just a little bit of planning for dark and cool make these two destinations great stops next time you are in northern California.

Posted in Hiking, Offbeat, Other Pursuits, Out and About in the USA, Travels | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Customer Cat Tales – What’s in a Name?

One of the things we do here at CatTail Studio Arts when we have the honor of selling a new pet dish to a customer is to ask for the story behind the name and a photo of the happy recipient to add to our blog roll. It is a fun way for us to see our handiwork in use and our customers can have the pleasure of seeing their pet posted on our blog. I can’t tell you how many times we receive a photo or a story and it puts an instant smile on our faces. Through ‘Customer Cat Tales’, we share some of our favorites with you. 

Some of you may recognize the title as part of Juliet’s soliloquy in the second act of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It continues on to say ‘that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. Juliet doesn’t care that Romeo comes from the house of the family rival – Montague. It doesn’t matter to her what he is called. She loves him.

Today, April 23rd, it is ‘National Talk Like Shakespeare Day‘. On this anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (April 23, 1616), people all over the US and UK are using thee and thou in their speech and working in Shakespeare quotes to their daily conversation. (Give it a try. I find it hard to maintain for very long but it does make me smile.)

What does this have to do with a cat tale you may ask?  Well, today’s Customer Cat Tale involves a cat whose name has evolved over time. She answers to everything…well, as much as a cat will answer to anything! And, in my attempt to talk like Shakespeare today, let me just add that “a cat by any other name is still as cute”. 😉

My name is ....

My name is Mystique…no, Baby…no, Dubs…no, BG. Oh, whatever!

The tale…

“I picked up my kitten when she was six months old from a friend whose cat had accidentally gotten pregnant. The friend had named her Mystique since she continued to change colors in her calico fur.

I admit to being horrible at coming up with good names but I wasn’t in love with ‘Mystique’. I try to come up with a name that fits the personality of the cat and mystique wasn’t doing it for me.

Since my new kitten was the baby of the family, I called her Baby temporarily while I waited for that golden name to make itself known. I kept trying out different names but none of them stuck. She started responding to Baby or Baby Girl (BG for short). She ended up choosing the name she WANTED to be called – Dubs – but that’s her older brother’s name so it was already taken!

To this day, if she doesn’t respond to you calling for Baby Girl, you’ll definitely get her attention by calling her Dubs or Baby Dubs but she will always be known as BG to me.” 😉


Posted in Customer Cat Tales, Four-Legged Friends, Offbeat, Other Pursuits | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment