A Plantable Gift

Alton Brown put forth an idea on his “Good Eats” television show not to allow any ‘uni-taskers’ into your home. Anthony Bourdain espoused the same sentiment about the lowly garlic press in his book, “Kitchen Confidential”. Both times I remember identifying fully with the idea; if something can’t serve multiple purposes, don’t waste your space with it.

170527-plantable-birthday-card-by-tmsctdPerhaps this is why some of my favorite gifts are the ones that come, get enjoyed and then go away. Like a nice bottle of wine…a gift card for a nice dinner…a blooming plant…a special spice. None of these items require dusting, storage or that crazy idea that the ‘giftee’ has to put the gift out on display every time the ‘gifter’ is dropping by. (I really do know several people who do this; I can’t imagine the record-keeping required to successfully pull it off!)

170527-planting-birthday-card-by-tmsctdEarlier this year, Chuck received a plantable birthday card.  It was a lovely sentiment that came with a bonus – if you put it in the ground, it promised to spew forth a variety of ornamental and edible plants. We promptly ‘planted’ it in a container on our patio where we could see it and remember to water it everyday. Before long, sprouts were popping up as promised. As of today, the first zinnia bud is about ready to open and the marigolds should be ready in a few more weeks. We will think of the folks who sent it every day until we get a hard frost. Or, if we are lucky here in Northern California this year, we might have a mild winter which would yield a second bonus that these seedlings will bloom for more than one season. Here’s hoping!

170527-sprouted-birthday-card-by-tmsctdReading the insert that came with the card, we found a third bonus – the card was created by an organization entitled ‘Plantables’ out of Hudson, Wisconsin who have created a business to allow workers of all abilities to create these seed-embedded paper products. If that wasn’t civic-minded enough, they also use a bee-theme across their products to spread the word that we need to help the honey bees survive so they can pollinate our food supply. Apparently, this gift was giving long before it even came our way!

On the Plantables, LLC website, one of the ways they ask for help is to get the word out. Here is a link to their on-line store. Next time you need a clever card for a bee-lover, a gardener at heart, or anyone willing to plant the card that keeps on giving, pay them a visit. The recipient of your plantable gift may be just as happy to receive it as we were! No dusting required. 😉

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An Iconic California Getaway Region – Shasta Lake

It seems every born-and-raised Californian that we have encountered over the years has waxed nostalgic with memories of the same few iconic destinations they visited in their childhoods. One of those destinations that brings back a flood of fond memories is the Shasta Lake area with stories of fishing, swimming and house-boating on the lake. We hadn’t any plans to houseboat when we went but we were looking forward to seeing what all the fuss was about and exploring the caverns, the lake and the dam. Here is what we discovered.

140706-lake-shasta-caves-by-tmsterbisThe Lake Shasta Caverns are a magnificent example of limestone formations and well worth the effort to visit. Even if you have been to caves like Mammoth and Carlsbad, the Lake Shasta Caverns are beautiful in their own right and you get more than just a cave adventure with the price of admission. To get to the caves, you walk to a dock, ride a boat across Shasta Lake, ride a bus up to the entrance to explore the caverns and then do the whole thing in reverse to get back. The day we partook of the experience, the little kids just giggled with glee as we bounced about on the bus ride both coming and going; their laughter was infectious.

Shasta Dam Visitors Center

Shasta Dam Visitors Center

From the caverns, we headed over to the dam. The Shasta Dam is the second largest dam in the United States behind Grand Coulee (based on amount of concrete used) and the second tallest behind Hoover Dam. Here the engineer and designer in me was totally impressed with the visitors center experience. The auditorium was built such that, as you watched the explanatory movie about the dam, you could look at the dam through the floor-to-ceiling windows behind the screen. It was brilliant! (In the photo you can see the difference between past amounts of water being let into the Sacramento River in the movie and the lack of water being released in a drought year.)

Exposed Construction Tower Legs Above Water Level Which is Well Below Normal Tree Line

Exposed Construction Tower Legs Above Water Level Which is Well Below Normal Tree Line

In the video, they interviewed many of the people involved in building the dam. One of them commented that the construction tower used to dump the concrete during construction was simply cut off well below water levels. That was just faster and cheaper than dismantling it. Nobody would ever see it anyway, right? Well…not during the most-recent drought! Those cut off tower legs were again sticking out of the lake as of late 2013 and continued to be exposed until early 2016 when there was enough runoff to provide a much-needed refill.

[Note that this is not to say that the California drought is over by any means. I recently read a quote from Bill Patzert, climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who I thought put it quite nicely…“The bottom line is that much of California remains in serious drought, and many communities still hover near crisis conditions. For drought relief, El Niño was a stud in the north, but a dud in the south.” ]

Shasta Peak Behind Lake Shasta and Shasta Dam

Shasta Peak Behind Lake Shasta and Shasta Dam

Feeling both in awe of the natural and man-made wonders, we headed down the road from Shasta Dam and turned our attention to finding a campsite for the night. A rural drive into the Mendocino National Forest yielded just what we were looking for – a quiet site (we were the only ones there) with some wildlife (we had deer grazing through camp), good views (we looked down from the forest into the Sacramento Valley) and a nice breeze all evening that kept any bugs away and the temps just perfect.

Alpen Cellars' Trinity Lakes Gewurtztraminer

Alpen Cellars’ Trinity Lakes Gewurtztraminer

We had stopped at a local grocery and picked up some fresh fish, frozen peas and a bottle of Trinity Lakes Gewurtztraminer from Alpen Cellars – a silver-medal-winning vintage at the California State Fair. We like to sample and support local, and Alpen Cellars is the only winery that is located in the Trinity Lakes AVA near Lake Shasta available at the grocery…so Alpen Cellars it was.

We opened the bottle to accompany our “fish and peas” campsite dinner. The color of straw (although it is hard to discern in an aluminum camping cup) with a lovely bouquet and crisp flavor, it was the perfect pairing to both our dinner and our Shasta Lake adventure. A toast: “Here’s hoping that every time we venture back to the Shasta Lake area, we find vacationers fishing, swimming and boating on a reservoir that is filled to the tree line!”

Posted in Drink, Offbeat, Out and About in the USA, Travels, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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