Aug 122017
 

Today is World Elephant Day, an international event dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world’s elephants. Conceived in 2011 by Canadian filmmakers Patricia Sims and Michael Clark of Canazwest Pictures, and Sivaporn Dardarananda, Secretary-General of the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation in Thailand, it was officially founded, supported and launched by Patricia Sims and the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation on August 12, 2012. Since that time, Patricia Sims continues to lead and direct World Elephant Day, which is now supported by over 65 wildlife organizations as well as individuals in countries across the globe.

The goal of World Elephant Day is to create awareness of the urgent plight of African and Asian elephants, and to share knowledge and positive solutions for the better care and management of captive and wild elephants. African elephants are listed as “Vulnerable” and Asian elephants as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. The most dire prediction suggests that both African and Asian elephants face extinction within 12 years. The current population estimates are about 400,000 for African elephants and 40,000 for Asian elephants, although these estimates may be too high.

The film Return to the Forest, narrated by William Shatner, is about the reintroduction of captive Asian elephants to the wild and was released on the inaugural World Elephant Day in 2012. The follow-up feature film When Elephants Were Young, also narrated by William Shatner, depicts the life of a young man and young elephant in Thailand.

The demand for ivory, which is highest in China, has led to catastrophic poaching of both African and Asian elephants. One of the world’s largest elephants, Satao, was recently killed for his iconic tusks. Another iconic Kenyan elephant, Mountain Bull, was also killed by poachers, and with the street value for ivory now exceeding that of gold, African elephants face a poaching epidemic. Elephants are also poached for meat, leather, and body parts, with the illegal wildlife trade putting elephants increasingly in danger, because it is perceived to be a low risk and high profit endeavor given that the resources for policing poaching are inadequate and elephants live in some of the poorest countries in the world. For many would-be poachers the potential profits are well worth the relatively small risk of being caught.

The loss of habitat for elephants due to deforestation, increases in mining, and agricultural expansion has also become problematic, especially for Asian elephants. The fragmentation of habitat also creates isolation for herd members which makes breeding more difficult, and allows poachers to find the elephants and set traps more easily. Furthermore, as human populations increase and forest cover decreases, wild elephants are forced into closer proximity with human settlements leading to incidents of crop damage and other economic losses, pitting elephants directly against humans.

A lack of legislation regarding the care and treatment of elephants in zoos, circuses, and tourism often leads to their mistreatment. Captivity can be a serious threat to elephants, and Asian elephants are often illegally captured in the wild and trafficked into a lucrative wild animal industry.

I well remember a time in the 1950s when elephants were the mainstays of circuses in England and Australia, the circuses being sure to parade the elephants through town before setting up the big top (which the elephants assisted in raising). Those days are mostly gone. When I was on a very well-managed safari in Kenya in the Maasai Mara 10 years ago, I didn’t see a single elephant until the last day when we were heading out of the park on the way to the airport, and then it was just a couple of them.

Giving you a recipe for elephant stew would certainly be at odds with the purpose of the day, although I notice no lack of them online. That does not mean that we cannot have an elephant-themed recipe. Here’s a well-known pastry: cinnamon elephant ears. No elephants need to be killed to bake and enjoy them.

Cinnamon Elephant Ears

Ingredients

1 cup sugar
kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 450˚F/230˚C.

Mix together half of the sugar and a pinch of kosher salt and spread it thinly and evenly on a pastry board or marble slab. Unfold the puff pastry over the sugar mixture.

Mix the other half of the sugar and the cinnamon and spread it evenly on top of the puff pastry. Then use a rolling pin to roll out the pastry dough into a 13”/33cm square, pressing the sugar into the pastry, top and bottom. Fold the sides of the square towards the center so they go halfway to the middle. Fold them again so the two folds meet exactly at the middle of the dough. Then fold one half over the other half so that you have 6 layers. Slice the dough into 3/8-inch slices and place the slices on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake the “ears” for 6 minutes or until they are caramelized on the bottom. Turn them carefully with a spatula and bake them for another 3 to 5 minutes, until they are caramelized on the other side.

Cool on a wire rack.

 

Sep 142016
 

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Today is the birthday (1909) of Sir Peter Markham Scott CH CBE DSC FRS FZS,  British ornithologist, conservationist, painter, naval officer, and sportsman. Scott was born in London, the only child of Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott http://www.bookofdaystales.com/robert-falcon-scott/ and sculptor Kathleen Bruce. He was only two years old when his father died. Robert Scott, in a last letter to his wife, advised her to “make the boy interested in natural history if you can; it is better than games.” He was named after Sir Clements Markham, mentor of Scott’s polar expeditions, and his godfather was J. M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan http://www.bookofdaystales.com/j-m-barrie/

Scott was educated at Oundle School and Trinity College, Cambridge, initially reading Natural Sciences but graduating in the History of Art in 1931. He displayed a strong interest in painting, became known as a painter of wildlife, particularly birds. His wealthy background allowed him to follow his interests in art, wildlife, and many sports, including wildfowling, sailing and ice skating. He represented Great Britain and Northern Ireland at sailing in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, winning a bronze medal in the O-Jolle dinghy class.

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During the Second World War, Scott served in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. As a Sub-Lieutenant, during the failed evacuation of the 51st Highland Division he was the British Naval officer sent ashore at Saint-Valery-en-Caux in the early hours of 11 June 1940 to evacuate some of the wounded. Then he served in destroyers in the North Atlantic but later moved to commanding the First (and only) Squadron of Steam Gun Boats against German E-boats in the English Channel. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery.

Scott is credited with designing the Western Approaches ship camouflage scheme, which disguised the look of ship superstructure. In July 1940, he managed to get the destroyer HMS Broke (D83) in which he was serving experimentally camouflaged, differently on the two sides. To starboard, the ship was painted blue-grey all over, but with white in naturally shadowed areas as countershading, following the ideas of Abbott Handerson Thayer from the First World War. To port, the ship was painted in “bright pale colours” to combine some disruption of shape with the ability to fade out during the night, again with shadowed areas painted white. However, he later wrote that compromise was fatal to camouflage, and that invisibility at night (by painting ships in white or other pale colors) had to be the sole objective. By May 1941, all ships in the Western Approaches (the North Atlantic) were ordered to be painted in Scott’s camouflage scheme. The scheme was said to be so effective that several British ships collided with each other. The effectiveness of Scott’s and Thayer’s ideas was demonstrated experimentally by the Leamington Camouflage Centre in 1941. Under a cloudy overcast sky, the tests showed that a white ship could approach six miles (9.6 km) closer than a black-painted ship before being seen. For this work he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire.

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He stood as a Conservative candidate unsuccessfully in the 1945 general election in Wembley North. In 1946, he founded the organization with which he was ever afterwards closely associated, the Severn Wildfowl Trust (now the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) with its headquarters at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, where he saved the nene or Hawaiian goose, from extinction in the 1950s, through a captive breeding program. In the years that followed, he led ornithological expeditions worldwide, and became a television personality, popularizing the study of wildfowl and wetlands.

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I’m not an especially avid fan of Scott. I watched a few of his television shows in the 1960s, but he seemed a bit too aristocratic and distant for my tastes. I was intrigued by the fact that he was Robert Scott’s son, though, and wondered whether that was what led to his fame. I think, in hindsight, that’s a bit harsh. His work on conservation, especially wildfowl and wetlands, is extremely important,  not least because he began it at a time when few were interested. The water meadows in Gloucestershire he preserved are some of the last remaining in Britain. They were once havens for biodiversity throughout the British Isles. By my eye his painting is sentimental and overrated as art. It was good for raising money for, and awareness of, conservation, however. Here’s a gallery:

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I’m awfully tempted to give a recipe for wild duck or goose, but will resist. You have to accept, though, that Scott came to conservation because he had been an avid hunter, not in spite of it. Many conservation efforts in Britain and the U.S. were promoted by hunters precisely because they experienced, first hand, the declining numbers of wildfowl. I’ve been a duck hunter myself, in the brackish sounds of North Carolina (not because I care for the sport, but because I was documenting the culture as an anthropologist). I too witnessed the plunging populations of ducks and geese over the course of the 1970s and ’80s. So, I’ll divert from meat to eggs.

Duck eggs are a rarity in the West, but in Asia they are as easy to find as chicken eggs (as are quail eggs). I probably ate duck eggs more often than chicken eggs in China. Basically you can do with duck eggs whatever you do with chicken eggs – fry, poach, boil, bake, scramble, etc. You can make omelets, soufflés, frittatas, cakes, or whatever you want. They are about the same size as a chicken egg and taste more or less the same – perhaps a bit richer, and the yolks can be more golden. Here’s a gallery to get you started.

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This website is great. http://www.greatbritishchefs.com/ingredients/duck-egg-recipes There is a heavy emphasis on asparagus and ham as accompaniments. So, for today I’ll go with a poached duck egg with fried ham and asparagus on toast. This can make a good first course. I often poach eggs instead of frying them, and have used them a lot in recipes here in this blog. But a quick scan shows that I have never given a recipe. People don’t poach eggs much these days. I guess they think it is more of a hassle than frying, though I don’t think it is. It just takes a little practice. Here’s a step by step.

Use a deep frying pan. Fill it with water and add a little salt and vinegar. The vinegar assists in keeping the white together as it cooks.

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Bring to a slow simmer.

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Crack an egg on to a plate or saucer. This step is not absolutely necessary, but I find it aids in getting the egg into the poaching water.

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Slide the egg gently into the water.

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Push the yolk  and white around a little (gently) whilst it cooks. You want to keep the white tight, and also keep the yolk off the bottom.

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Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and serve.

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The degree of doneness of the egg is your choice. I prefer the white cooked and the yolk runny. This takes about 3 minutes. If you want a harder yolk cook the egg longer.

May 142016
 

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The second Saturday in May is set aside in the Americas, and a few other parts of the world, as International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD). The day is set aside to highlight the importance of bird conservation, and this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty co-signed by Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The Treaty is supposed to protect migratory species by limiting or banning the killing of certain species as well as seeking to curtail the destruction of their natural habitats.

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The 19th century has a lot to answer for. It was the era of the Industrial Revolution, colonial expansion, and the attendant degradation of the environment, a process that continues to this day. There is an endless conflict between the desire of industrialists to make money which may entail the destruction of forests, wetlands, and prairies, and the general pollution of the environment, versus the attempts by conservationists to preserve the habitats of wild bird species. Sadly, the industrialists tend to win out, and the public often goes along with them. Politicians can often easily sway public opinion by birds-versus-jobs rhetoric, or similar simplistic catch phrases. This is an extremely short-sighted approach. Migratory birds are not simply attractive visitors; they are vital to the ecology of the planet, which, in turn, is vital to our own survival in the long run.

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The 19th century also saw the massive killing of migratory birds for food. My post on the passenger pigeon underscores this point: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/martha-the-passenger-pigeon/ . In fact it was the death of the last passenger pigeon in 1914 that spurred the environmental movement and, eventually, the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty. Certain wildfowl seemed to be indestructibly numerous in the 19th century, so that no one thought twice about killing thousands daily for food when they were so numerous that migratory flocks could blacken the sky from horizon to horizon for hours. What’s the harm in killing some? Well, at the beginning of the 20th century they found out. Migratory birds are not an inexhaustible resource. Kill enough of them over time and they will die out.

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It’s also true that standards were very different in the 19th century from now. John James Audubon is hailed as a great, naturalist, ornithologist, and conservationist because of his magnificent paintings of the birds of North America. What is not so often mentioned is that the birds he painted were dead – either shot by himself or by hunters he paid to “collect” them. Even today there is an ongoing debate about the need to kill and dissect members of endangered species as part of the effort to understand them and, therefore, protect them.

Rather than try to encompass all migratory birds I’ll focus on two broad genera that have been important to me throughout my life: hummingbirds and ducks. I never saw or was aware of hummingbirds until I moved to North America in 1975. I was dimly aware of the environment in Australia and England, but became much more intrigued when I moved to North Carolina, especially when I spent a year living in the Tidewater region and documenting the culture as a doctoral student. That’s where I first saw a hummingbird – feeding on flowers around the house where I was living (on the southern edge of the Great Dismal Swamp). In hindsight the bird was not particularly special, a male rubythroat, I’ve seen hundreds since in my own garden in New York. At the time, though, the sighting was momentous for me. At first I did not even realize that it was a bird; I thought it was a big insect. Then I took a closer look and marveled at its size, speed, and color. Its iridescent plumage was stunning and its lightning motions and sound captivated me.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

When I moved to rural New York I set about to attract hummingbirds by growing mounds of flowers, especially Monarda, and setting out feeders in my garden. My house was in the woods beside a river so it was a perfect habitat for birds in general. I always had a pair of nesting hummingbirds each summer and got to watch their mating rituals and parental habits. I was also able to observe how aggressive and territorial the males are. Fascinating.

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Then in 1992 I spent a year living in New Mexico documenting pueblo culture and got to see a few more hummingbird species in the summer. The rubythroat is the only hummingbird you will find in the northeast, but the southwest is host to a whole slew of species: Allen’s, Anna’s, Berylline, Black-chinned, Blue-throated, Broad-billed, Broad-tailed, Calliope, Cinnamon, Costa’s, Lucifer, Magnificent, Plain-capped, Starthroat, Ruby-throated, Rufous,  and Violet-crowned. Fantastic !!!

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Then I moved to Argentina in 2009 and the hummingbird world exploded. I spent most of my time in Buenos Aires where birds in general are not very common (except for endless pigeons). But during the migratory season some species of hummingbirds would visit the garden patio in the apartment complex where I lived – all brilliant. It was yet more exciting to travel to Iguazu in the north where hummingbirds are varied and plentiful, and where there are several sanctuaries where you can sit all day surrounded by hundreds of birds. I miss them. Hummingbirds have become my totem: they are small but very fast and determined. My study in New York was wallpapered with photos of them.

Ducks are another story. On the same visit to the marshlands of North Carolina I was deeply involved in the lives of hunters. In the winter of 1978 I went out with the hunters to build duck blinds, make decoys, and, eventually, to hunt. And, yes, I did shoot a few birds as part of the process. In those days there were stringent laws in place concerning what species were protected, and how many birds you could take in a day (with a license).

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At the turn of the 20th century market hunting was an important part of the local economy. Many of my older informants had been market gunners, and I was interested in documenting the history and culture of hunting in the region, including the traditional construction of blinds and decoys.  It’s all here if you are interested.

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Then I returned 20 years later. What a shock. The ducks were nowhere near as numerous when I was there in 1978 as they had been in market hunting days, but they were still plentiful enough. In the 1990s there had been a devastating decline in their numbers despite major conservation efforts. The wetlands where the ducks bred were all polluted and choked with weeds. When I went out on the water I barely saw a duck. It was not hunting that had decimated their numbers, it was environmental degradation mostly caused by unsustainable farming practices and industry. That brought home the whole message to me. It’s no good “protecting” a species if you destroy its home.

When I lived in the Tidewater region I are my fair share of wildfowl and enjoyed it immensely. Wild birds have a taste that domestic birds cannot rival. Nowadays I wouldn’t do it though. Destruction of environments may be the major factor in reducing numbers, but hunting is not helping either. One species I am not quite so sentimental about is the urban pigeon. I didn’t have to deal with them in rural  New York, but in the cities where I have lived since – Buenos Aires, Kunming, and Mantua – they are everywhere. They have also been bred domestically for well over 100 years for meat and eggs.  I don’t recommend bashing one over the head for the stove, but they are easily available in good supermarkets – usually classified as squab.

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Isabella Beeton goes on endlessly about pigeons – much more than for pigs, cows, and sheep. I have no idea why. I’ve already given her recipe for pigeon pie, so here’s stewed pigeon. You won’t have to clean store-bought birds, but the rest of the method is the same. Use light beef stock. You should be able to find mushroom ketchup.  If not use Worcestershire sauce. I prefer to brown the birds in bacon fat before stewing.

STEWED PIGEONS.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—6 pigeons, a few slices of bacon, 3 oz. of butter, 2 tablespoonfuls of minced parsley, sufficient stock No. 104 to cover the pigeons, thickening of butter and flour, 1 tablespoonful of mushroom ketchup, 1 tablespoonful of port wine.

Mode.—Empty and clean the pigeons thoroughly, mince the livers, add to these the parsley and butter, and put it into the insides of the birds. Truss them with the legs inward, and put them into a stewpan, with a few slices of bacon placed under and over them; add the stock, and stew gently for rather more than 1/2 hour. Dish the pigeons, strain the gravy, thicken it with butter and flour, add the ketchup and port wine, give one boil, pour over the pigeons, and serve.

Time.—Rather more than 1/2 hour. Average cost, 6d. to 9d. each.

Sufficient for 4 or 5 persons.

Seasonable from April to September.      

 

Jul 292015
 

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International Tiger Day, also known as Global Tiger Day, is an annual celebration to raise awareness for tiger conservation, held annually on 29 July. It was created in 2010 at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit. The goal of the day is to promote a global system for protecting the natural habitats of tigers and to raise public awareness and support for tiger conservation issues. For more information go to:

http://globaltigerinitiative.org/news/2010/08/global-tiger-recovery-program-initial-draft-released-for-peer-and-public-review/

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The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest cat species, reaching a total body length of up to 3.38 m (11.1 ft) and can weigh up to 388.7 kg (857 lb) in the wild. Its most recognizable feature is a pattern of dark vertical stripes on reddish-orange fur with a lighter underside. The species is classified in the genus Panthera with the lion, leopard, jaguar and snow leopard. Tigers are apex predators (top of the food chain), primarily preying on ungulates such as deer and bovids. They are territorial and generally solitary but social animals, meaning that they are usually solitary but have some social traits. Adult males are usually fiercely territorial but on occasion will allow other males to enter their territory provided they are submissive. Females often have somewhat overlapping territories. Tigers require large contiguous areas of habitat that support their prey needs. This, coupled with the fact that they are indigenous to some of the more densely populated places on Earth, has caused significant conflicts with humans.

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Tigers once ranged widely across Asia, from Turkey in the west to the eastern coast of Russia. Over the past 100 years, they have lost 93% of their historic range, and have been eliminated from southwest and central Asia, from the islands of Java and Bali, and from large areas of Southeast and Eastern Asia. Today, they range from the Siberian taiga to open grasslands and tropical mangrove swamps. The remaining six tiger subspecies have been classified as endangered by IUCN. The global population in the wild is estimated to number between 3,062 and 3,948 individuals, down from around 100,000 at the start of the 20th century, with most remaining populations occurring in small pockets isolated from each other, of which about 2,000 exist on the Indian subcontinent. Major reasons for population decline include habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, and poaching. The extent of area occupied by tigers is estimated at less than 1,184,911 km2 (457,497 sq mi), a 41% decline from the area estimated in the mid-1990s.

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Tigers are among the most recognizable and popular of the world’s megafauna. They have featured prominently in ancient legends and folklore, and continue to be depicted in modern films, advertizing, and literature. They appear on many flags, coats of arms, and as mascots for sporting teams. The tiger is the national animal of Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Malaysia and South Korea.

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Of great importance in Chinese culture, the Tiger is one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. Also in various Chinese art and martial art, the tiger is depicted as an earth symbol and equal rival of the Chinese dragon – the two representing matter and spirit respectively. The White Tiger (Chinese: 白虎; pinyin: Bái Hǔ) is one of the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellations. It is sometimes called the White Tiger of the West (西方白虎), and it represents the west and the autumn season.

The tiger replaces the lion as king of the beasts in cultures of eastern Asia, representing royalty, fearlessness and wrath. In Chinese children stories, it is often said that the stripes on a tiger’s forehead represent the character 王 (“king”).

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Some Asian cultures that celebrated tiger worship in the past still practice forms of it. In the suburbs of Kunming, where I live in China, there is a tourist attraction where the tiger worship of the Yi minority is displayed for tourists. This takes place in Solar Calendar Square (complete with a growling tiger statue, five meters high). In Chuxiong there is a similar attraction. A tiger totem ritual is presented for tourists; the ritual portrays the Yi belief that the tiger set the entire world in motion. A tiger dance is also performed at such places explaining the history of the Yi and their worship of tigers.

Along with these tourist attractions that display historical practices of the Yi, there is also archeological evidence for tiger worship in Yunnan. Tigers were found depicted on small stones. These stones were pierced and worn as amulets, suggesting that the tiger had a certain power of protection for its wearer. The Queen Mother deity of the west, Hsi Wang Mu, sometimes possessed the tail of a tiger in her depictions and, like the tiger, was associated with the mountains . The tiger was also a deity for both the Tungus and the Black Pottery people.

In many parts of Vietnam, the tiger is a revered creature. Some villages have a tiger temple. Tigers are admired for their great strength, ferocity and grace. The tiger is also considered a guardian deity. Tiger statutes are usually seen at the entrance of temples and palaces, keeping evil spirits from entering those places.

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The tiger is associated with the Hindu deities Shiva and Durga. In Pokhara, Nepal the tiger festival is known as Bagh Jatra. Celebrants dance disguised as tigers and are “hunted”. The Warli of Maharashtra in India worship Waghia the lord of tigers in the form of a shapeless stone.

The slang for “so-so” in Kunming dialect is 马马虎虎 (horse horse tiger tiger). Don’t ask me why.

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For a recipe I have chosen a Thai dish of sliced barbecued steak with a hot dipping sauce known as Crying Tiger. I’ve had it several times in Kunming cooked by Dai chefs. It’s easy enough to make as long as you follow the recipe for the dipping sauce precisely. You might find powdered roast rice difficult to find, but it’s easy to make. Scatter raw rice grains in a dryheavy skillet and toast them over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they take on color. Then grind them to a powder in a food processor or blender. Here’s an authentic recipe.

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/07/crying-tiger-thai-steak-salad-recipe.html

You can serve the steak hot with rice, or cold over salad greens with a little of the sauce on the greens.

Mar 222015
 

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World Water Day has been observed on 22 March since 1993 when the United Nations General Assembly declared 22 March as “World Day for Water.” This day was first formally proposed in Agenda 21 of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. Observance began in 1993 and has grown significantly ever since. For the general public to show support, people are encouraged not to use their taps throughout the whole day. The day has also become popular on Facebook and Twitter.

The UN and its member nations devote this day to implementing UN recommendations and promoting concrete activities within their countries regarding the world’s water resources. Each year, one of various UN agencies involved in water issues takes the lead in promoting and coordinating international activities for World Water Day. Since its inception in 2003, UN-Water has been responsible for selecting the theme, messages and lead UN agency for the World Day for Water.

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In addition to the UN member states, a number of NGOs promoting clean water and sustainable aquatic habitats have used World Day for Water as a time to focus public attention on the critical water issues of our era. Every three years since 1997, for instance, the World Water Council has drawn thousands to participate in its World Water Forum during the week of World Day for Water. Participating agencies and NGOs have highlighted issues such as that a billion people worldwide do not have access to safe water for drinking, and the role of gender in family access to safe water.

The theme for 2015 is Water and Sustainable Development which consolidates and builds upon the themes of previous World Water Days in order to highlight water’s role in the sustainable development agenda.

These themes are taken from the official website with my commentary in italics.

Water is health

Clean hands can save your life

It has long been a well known fact that keeping your hands clean is one of the most important, if not the most important, way to prevent contracting infectious diseases. As a pastor I used to shake everyone’s hand on the way out of church and then immediately wash my hands.

Water is nature

Ecosystems lie at the heart of the global water cycle.

Obviously you cannot have an ecosystem without water. ALL living things require water to survive. Some, such as cacti and camels, are ingenious at storing water in dry ecosystems, but they still need it.

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Water is urbanization

Every week, one million people move into cities.

The endless migration of people to cities puts an increasing, and at present unsustainable, burden on lakes, rivers, and reservoirs which are frequently polluted.

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Water is industry

More water is used to manufacture a car than to fill a swimming pool.

Industry has a complicated relationship with water resources. It has an insatiable need for water which is used for a variety of purposes, such as for cooling. But then it returns the water to rivers and lakes. All would be well if it were clean upon return, but often it is not.

Water is energy

Water and energy are inseparable friends.

Among other things, water is an important source of energy via hydro-electric power. Niagara Falls, for example, provides vast quantities of electricity that serves the eastern seaboard f the U.S. and Canada. Hydro-electric is eminently sustainable.

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Water is gender

In many cultures women are responsible for the family water supply.

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Water is food

To produce two steaks you need 15 000 liters of water.

Here is a table of the quantity of water needed to produce various foods (click to enlarge).

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Sometimes I struggle to find a recipe linked to the theme of the day. No worries on that score today: just the opposite. Too much! I figured that the most obvious use of water in cooking is in making soup – generally speaking, my favorite class of food; spring, summer, autumn winter. I am never happier than when my kitchen is redolent of rich savors from a bubbling pot on the stove. So, I recommend you make your favorite soup today. Mine is an Indonesian chicken soup – soto ayam (which translates as “chicken soup). There are almost infinite varieties, but the basics are the same. You serve a chicken broth, piping hot, spiced with shrimp paste and turmeric and containing noodles and chunks of poached chicken. Each diner gets a bowl and then adds toppings from a selection, such as, green onions, sliced hard-boiled eggs, crispy fried onions and/or garlic, cilantro, and sambal oelek. Here’s my rough recipe guidelines from memory, as ever, with only loose ideas about quantities.

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©Soto Ayam

In a big stock pot poach a small chicken with a stalk of lemon grass, 1 tablespoon of ground turmeric, a hunk of blachang (dried shrimp paste), 1 teaspoon each of ground cumin and ground coriander, and a piece of fresh ginger until the meat is just tender. This usually takes me about 50 minutes. Remove the chicken, return the broth to a boil and cook a sufficient quantity of noodles for the number of diners. Cellophane noodles are the commonest in Java and Bali, but it’s your choice. I’ve often used ramen.

Strip the chicken meat from the bones. When the noodles are cooked, make up deep bowls of broth with noodles and chicken. Provide your guests a choice of toppings for them to add as they wish. The standards are crispy fried onions, sliced boiled eggs, and sambal oelek, a fiery sauce made with fierce red chile peppers and tomato (which I have often found at supermarkets in the U.S). There are no limits, however. Other favorites include cilantro leaves, bean sprouts, and sliced boiled potatoes.

You can buy crispy fried onions, but they are easy to make. Slice onions coarsely and spread them with salt in a sieve. Let the moisture drain out, then pat them dry with paper towels. Heat deep frying oil to 300°F and fry the onions until they are deep golden. Drain on wire racks. They can be stored in airtight containers, so you can make big batches. You can do the same with sliced garlic.

Sep 012013
 
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Martha

On this date in 1914, Martha, thought to be the world’s last Passenger Pigeon, died at the Cincinnati Zoo. The extinction of the Passenger Pigeon is one of those enormous ecological tragedies that should have sounded warning bells about preserving our natural environment, but it took another 50 years before the lesson really sunk in.  The loss of the Passenger Pigeon is so horrifyingly stark because of the magnitude of the event over such a short period of time. The species lived in enormous migratory flocks until the early 20th century, when hunting and habitat destruction took their toll.  One flock in 1866 in southern Ontario was described as being 1 mile (1.5 km) wide and 300 miles (500 km) long, taking 14 hours to pass over, and holding in excess of 3.5 billion birds (with a “B”). Less than 50 years later not one was left.

The Passenger Pigeon was much larger than the somewhat similarly-plumaged Mourning Dove. Physically it was adapted for speed and maneuverability in flight, with a small head and neck, long and wedge-shaped tail, and long, broad, and pointed wings. It had particularly large breast muscles that enabled it to fly for long distances. The male was about 15.4 to 16.1 in (39 to 41 cm) long, while the female was slightly smaller at 14.9 to 15.7 in (38 to 40 cm) in length. The long, tapering tail accounted for much of this length as it was between 6.9 and 8.3 in (18 and 21 cm) long. This pigeon had a carmine-red iris surrounded by a narrow purplish-red eye ring. The bill was black, while the feet and legs were a bright coral red in the male, slightly duller in the female, and just a dull red in the juvenile. The overall plumage colors are depicted below – juvenile (left), male (center), female (right) – in a painting by Louis Agassiz Fuertes.

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The Passenger Pigeon was one of the most social land birds. It lived in colonies stretching over hundreds of square miles and practiced communal breeding with up to a hundred nests in a single tree. At the height of its population of around five billion it may have been the most numerous bird on earth. A. W. Schorger believed that it accounted for between 25 and 40% of the total land bird population in the United States. Even today the Passenger Pigeon’s historic population is roughly the equivalent of the total number of birds that overwinter in the United States every year.

The Passenger Pigeon was nomadic and had no site fidelity, often choosing to nest in a different location each year. Pigeon migration was a spectacle without parallel. John James Audubon described one flock he encountered:

“I dismounted, seated myself on an eminence, and began to mark with my pencil, making a dot for every flock that passed. In a short time, finding the task which I had undertaken impracticable as the birds poured in in countless multitudes, I rose, and counting the dots then put down, found that 163 had been made in twenty-one minutes. I traveled on, and still met more the farther I proceeded. The air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse; the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose… Before sunset I reached Louisville, distance from Hardensburgh fifty-five miles. The Pigeons were still passing in undiminished numbers, and continued to do so for three days in succession.”

Others frequently described these flocks as being so dense that they blackened the sky and as having no sign of subdivisions. The flocks ranged from only 3.3 ft (1.0 m) above the ground in windy conditions to as high as 1,300 ft (400 m). These migrating flocks were typically in narrow columns that twisted and undulated, but they were reported as being in nearly every conceivable shape.

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The Passenger Pigeon was an important source of food for the people of North America. Indigenous peoples tried to live near nesting colonies, eating only the juveniles. The juveniles were killed at night with long poles. They were careful not to disturb the adult pigeons, and instead only ate the juveniles as they were afraid that the adult pigeons might desert their nesting grounds. Away from the nests, large nets were used to capture adult pigeons, sometimes up to 800 at a time. Among the game birds, Passenger Pigeons were second only to the Wild Turkey in terms of importance for the indigenous population living in the southeastern United States. The birds’ fat was stored, often in large quantities, and used like butter. Archaeological evidence supports the idea that the indigenous population ate the pigeons frequently prior to colonization.

In the early 19th century, commercial hunters began netting and shooting the birds to sell in city markets as food, as live targets for trap shooting, and even as food for pigs. Once pigeon meat became popular, commercial hunting started on a prodigious scale. One method of capture was to hunt at a nesting colony, particularly during the period of a few days after the adult pigeons abandoned their nestlings but before the nestlings could fly. Some hunters used sticks to poke the nestlings out of the nest, while others shot the bottom of a nest with a blunt arrow to dislodge the pigeons. Others cut down a nesting tree in such a way that when it fell, it would also hit a second nesting tree and dislodge the pigeons within. Still another way was to simply set a nesting tree on fire, cooking the doves or collecting them as they tried to escape.

Nets were propped up to allow Passenger Pigeons entry, then closed by knocking loose the stick that supported the opening, trapping twenty or more pigeons inside. Tunnel nets were also used to great effect, and one particularly large net was capable of catching 3,500 pigeons at a time. These nets were used by many farmers on their own property as well as by professional trappers.

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Passenger Pigeons were shot with such ease that many did not consider them to be a game bird. An amateur hunter could easily bring down six with one shotgun blast; a particularly good shot with both barrels of a shotgun at a roost could kill over 60 birds. They were frequently shot either in flight during migration or immediately after, when they traditionally perched in dead, exposed trees.

Hunters largely outnumbered the trappers, and hunting Passenger Pigeons was a popular sport for young boys. At a nesting site in Petoskey, Michigan in 1878, 50,000 birds were killed each day for nearly five months. The surviving adults attempted a second nesting at new sites, but were killed by professional hunters before they had a chance to raise any young. Neltje Blanchan documented that over a million birds could be exterminated at one time from a single flock, and that an equal number were left either wounded or orphaned before they could fend for themselves. Paul Ehrlich reported that a “single hunter” sent three million birds to eastern cities during his career.

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By the mid-1800s, railroads had opened new opportunities for pigeon hunters. While previously it proved too difficult to ship masses of pigeons to eastern cities, the access provided by the railroad permitted pigeon hunting to become commercialized. After being opened up to the railroads, the town of Plattsburg, New York is estimated to have shipped 1.8 million pigeons to larger cities in 1851 alone at a price of 31 to 56 cents a dozen.

In 1857, a bill was brought forth to the Ohio State Legislature seeking protection for the Passenger Pigeon. A Select Committee of the Senate filed a report stating, “The passenger pigeon needs no protection. Wonderfully prolific, having the vast forests of the North as its breeding grounds, traveling hundreds of miles in search of food, it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow, and no ordinary destruction can lessen them, or be missed from the myriads that are yearly produced.”

Conservationists were ineffective in stopping the slaughter. A bill was passed in the Michigan legislature making it illegal to net pigeons within two miles (3 km) of a nesting area, but the law was weakly enforced. By the mid-1890s, the Passenger Pigeon had almost completely disappeared. In 1897, a bill was introduced in the Michigan legislature asking for a 10-year closed season on Passenger Pigeons. This was a futile gesture. Similar legal measures were passed and disregarded in Pennsylvania. This was a highly gregarious species  – the flock could initiate courtship and reproduction only when they were gathered in large numbers; smaller groups of Passenger Pigeons could not breed successfully, and the surviving numbers proved too few to re-establish the species. Attempts at breeding among the captive population also failed for the same reasons. The Passenger Pigeon was a colonial and gregarious bird practicing communal roosting and communal breeding and needed large numbers for optimum breeding conditions. By the time that effective legislation to prevent hunting was put in place it was too late.

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The last fully authenticated record of a wild bird was near Sargents, Pike County, Ohio, on March 22 or 24, 1900, when the bird was killed by a boy named Press Clay Southworth with a BB gun. Sightings continued to be reported in the 20th century, up until 1930. All sightings after the Ohio bird, however, are unconfirmed, in spite of rewards offered for a living specimen.

By the turn of the 20th century, the last known group of Passenger Pigeons was kept by Professor Charles Otis Whitman at the University of Chicago. Whitman studied these pigeons along with Rock Doves and Eurasian Collared-Doves. All of Whitman’s pigeons were descended from the same pair. Whitman and the Cincinnati Zoo attempted to breed the surviving birds, including attempts at making a Rock Dove foster Passenger Pigeon eggs. Whitman sent a female named Martha to the Cincinnati Zoo in 1902.While Whitman had about a dozen Passenger Pigeons in 1903, they had stopped breeding, and by 1906 he was down to five birds.

On September 1, 1914, Martha, died in the Cincinnati Zoo. Her body was frozen into a block of ice and sent to the Smithsonian Institution, where it was skinned, dissected, photographed and mounted. Currently, Martha is in the museum’s archived collection and not on display. A memorial statue of Martha stands on the grounds of the Cincinnati Zoo.  A chilling story that, unfortunately, has not prevented repeat performances of over hunting and over fishing of species that people have blindly assumed were too numerous to be permanently harmed. We have been warned.

Martha today

Martha today

Even if there were a certain mock irony to it, I don’t think I should give a recipe here for pigeon pie or roast squab. Instead I will go in the opposite direction and present a vegan dish that, to the best of my knowledge, is eco-friendly and is aptly named.  Following in the footsteps of my mentor, Robert Carrier, I keep a large stock of non-perishables in my kitchen for “emergencies.” In Great Dishes of the World he lists the contents of his emergency shelf, which includes tinned soups, meats , fish and vegetables, pasta and rice, and various condiments.  Glaringly absent are dried legumes. I always have a great stock including lentils, split peas, and beans of all sorts. In the mix are always dried pigeon peas.

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Pigeon peas are not well known in the U.S. and Europe but are a staple in Latin America and south Asia. Pigeon peas are both a food crop (used as dried peas, pea flour, or fresh green vegetable peas), and a forage/cover crop. In combination with cereals, pigeon peas make a well-balanced food. The dried peas may be sprouted briefly, then cooked, for a flavor different from the green or dried peas. Sprouting also enhances the digestibility of dried pigeon peas via the reduction of indigestible sugars that would otherwise remain in the cooked dried peas.

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In India, split pigeon peas (toor dal) also called togari bele in Kannada and tuvaram paruppu in Tamil are one of the most popular pulses, being an important source of protein in a mostly vegetarian diet. In regions where it grows, fresh young pods are eaten as a vegetable in dishes such as sambar. In Ethiopia, not only the pods, but also the young shoots and leaves are cooked and eaten.

In some places, such as the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Dominican Republic, Panama and Hawaii, pigeon peas are grown for canning and consumption. A dish made of rice and green pigeon peas (moro de guandules) is a traditional food in the Dominican Republic. Pigeon peas are also made into a stew, with plantain balls. In Puerto Rico arroz con gandules is made with rice and pigeon peas and is the national dish. Trinidad and Tobago, and Grenada have their own variant, called pelau, which includes either beef or chicken, and occasionally pumpkin and pieces of cured pig tail. In the Atlantico department of Colombia the sopa de guandú con carne salada (or simply “guandules“) is made with pigeon peas.

I make my own version of arroz con gandules.  The basic concept is to blend rice with pigeon peas and season them with an all-purpose flavoring mix called sofrito (sometimes recaito). Nowadays cooks in the Caribbean often use packaged and bottled seasonings.  I prefer to make my sofrito from scratch.  This dish usually has some meat in it, but mine is vegan.  This dish goes well with fried, sliced plantains, and a mixed salad of tomatoes, avocados  and sliced onion drizzled with olive oil.

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Pigeon peas and Rice 

Ingredients:

*1 green pepper with ribs and seeds removed
*1 medium onion peeled and quartered
*1 scotch bonnet pepper (or other hot pepper)
*2 cloves garlic peeled
*5 stems fresh cilantro
*½ tsp dried oregano
*2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
*1 tsp salt
1 cup cooked pigeon peas (or canned)
1 ½ cups long grain rice
3 cups water
1 tbsp capers plus their vinegar
1 lime cut into wedges

Instructions:

Put the ingredients marked with an asterisk into a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped and blended, but not a complete pulp. This is your sofrito.

Thoroughly wash the rice by placing it in a colander or sieve and running it under cold water until the water runs clear.  Set aside.

Heat a Dutch oven or heavy lidded pot over medium heat. Add the sofrito and sauté gently for 2 to 3 minutes.  Then add the washed rice and sauté another 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the water and pigeon peas, bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.  Do not lift the lid during the cooking process.

When the rice has cooked through and absorbed all the liquid you should hear it start to sputter.  Remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes.

Uncover the pot, stir in the capers and vinegar, and serve with lime wedges.

Serves 4 to 6