Sunday, December 30, 2018

Mexican Hairless Dog

The Mexican hairless dog, known as the xoloitzcuintle or xolo from the Nahuatl language, is a hairless breed of dog. A genetic study of the modern xolo determined it is a result of breeding with domestic dogs brought by pre-Columbian indigenous Americans from Asia with European herding dog breeds from the time after Columbus. 
Sign in the Dolores Olmedo Museum grounds.
Statue of a xolo at the musuem.
Another statue of the dog, made out of lava.
Archaeological evidence points to the xolo being over 3,500 years old, extent with the Mayans and Aztecs. They were considered sacred and a great delicacy consumed for sacrificial purposes such as marriages and funerals. 
Xolo at the Dolores Olmeda Museum. I had an opportunity to pet it and it was very friendly. 
The journals of Christopher Columbus in 1492 refer to a strange hairless dog.  
Live xolo next to a statue of a xolo.
I saw these xolos at the Doloros Olmedo Museum in Xochimilco, outside Mexico City. 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Mexico: Mexico City, Amecameca, Taxco, Cholula, Puebla, Teotihuacan, Villahermosa and Palenque

Judy's been trying to get me to Mexico City for years and I've resisted. I'd been superficially into Mexico: Tijuana, Ensenada, and Mexicali, in the State of Baja California; Sonoyta, Puerto Penasco, Nogales, and Agua Prieta, in the State of Sonora; and even down as far as Nuevo Casas Grandes and Colonia Juarez in the State of Chihuahua. One of the best tour guides in Mexico City is the father of Judy's nephew by marriage, John, and he had been encouraging us to go there and use his father as a guide. I finally relented and I'm glad I did. The Mexico City vicinity is a wonderful destination, as good as many of the sexier destinations we normally think of. I highly recommend it. It has everything you want in travel: great and unusual food, interesting and varying culture,  a long and fascinating history and fabulous architecture and natural wonders.

Travel to Mexico City:
On Thursday, March 8, 2018, we flew from Los Angeles to Mexico City on a direct Delta flight, leaving LAX at 9:35 a.m. and arriving at CDMX at 3:15 p.m. (a 3 hour, 40 minute flight and two time zones ahead).

Mexico City:
John's father, Arnoldo Pedroza, and John's brother, Victor, met us at the airport and took us to the Hotel Maria Cristina, in the heart of Mexico City. The Maria Cristina is very nice, reasonably priced and close to the government center, financial district and Chapultepec Park. The Mexico City traffic is horrible. It must have taken 45 minutes to get to the hotel. After getting settled we ventured across the street to Mexitaco and had a chorizo taco, some lamb chopped into bits and various wonderful salsas, one with an avocado base, one from yellow peppers, and one with red peppers, onions and tomato that was very hot. A large mall was nearby and we got some gelato (hazelnut and pistachio - fantastic).
     Mexico: Arrival in Mexico City  (Judy)

Friday, March 9, Judy and I went down the block for breakfast at La Casa de Tono, a chain restaurant. Judy got pozole, a soup of mixed pork meat and pork head. I got sope cochinita, a spicy slow roasted pork. They had four salsas at the table: (a) habanero, (b) tomatilla and avocado, (c) red chiles, and (d) green chiles and tomatilla. We found one of the distinguishing features of Mexico City to be the varieties of salsa and the salsa tends to be quite spicy. Our guide for the day, Victor Pedroza, took us to a number of places downtown, including, Moctezuma's Palace, the National Palace, right next door, which included the amazing mural by Diego Rivera of the history of Mexico, and the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, also next door, the seat of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico. Then to El Hidalguense for a late lunch, probably the best meal of the trip. The main dish was lamb barbacoa wrapped in maguey leaves, but we also enjoyed strawberry guava juice and tacos made with blue tortillas with interesting ingredients including chinicuilles (little worms), gusanos de maguey (big worms) and escarioles (ant eggs). The salsas included habanero, adobo and green chiles.

Saturday, March 10, Victor Pedroza picked us up at 9:00 a.m. and we went to Pattiserie Dominque, a French restaurant, which is Victor's favorite. Judy got huevos rancheros and I got a croquette, a sandwich with pork, Gruyere cheese and an over-easy egg. It was okay good. Victor had recommended against El Hidalguense, so it just shows again that tastes differ greatly. From there we drove to Coyoacan. Judy and I walked into the plaza and visited the parish church of San Juan Bautista, built between 1520 and 1552, on of the three oldest parish churches in Mexico City. Then we visited the Frida Kahlo Museum, the former home of Frida, wife of Diego Rivera, which Victor and his mother stood in line at for tickets while we walked into the plaza area. Judy has since turned into a Frida Kahlo devotee, excited to see her anywhere she shows up (which is actually quite a bit). Then we drove a short distance to the Leon Trotsky home, home of the exiled Russian, now a museum, where he was murdered. It provided context and detail to a fun piece of world history I vaguely recalled. Then to the Museum of Dolores Olmedo, with the best collection of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera paintings, wonderful grounds and buildings, and best of all, home of a number of Mexican hairless dogs, called xoloitzcuintli or xolo, also the dog Dante in the movie "Coco." Xolos were found with the Aztecs and used by them, among other things, for food.  Finally, we went to the canals of Xochimilco to get an idea of what Mexico City was like when it was a lake at the time of the Aztecs. We got on one of many, many garish looking boats propelled by men using long poles and went careening down a canal full of boats. It was unusual and interesting, but I was happy when it was over. For dinner we went to the Casa de los Azulejos, or house of tiles, in downtown Mexico City, to eat at Sanborns. We went there specifically to eat enchiladas Suizas, chicken enchiladas in tomatillo and cream sauce, originated there. Judy got it and I ordered a poblano mole. Surprisingly, I found the enchiladas Suizas quite bland and the mole too dark chocolaty for my taste. One of the few meals we had in Mexico that was not great.
     Mexico City: Dolores Olmedo Museum  (Judy)

Sunday, March 11, we were on our own. We walked to and from Chapultepec Park which was quite a long walk. Some kind of a marathon was going on and crowds lined the street. We first visited the Chapultepec Zoo which I have heard about since a boy as a great zoo, one that has pandas. I was quite disappointed in it. The crowds were so thick that it was difficult to move around. We did see quite a few African animals, but I was glad to get out. We visited an outdoor food area and I had a torta Cubana, a huge sandwich which many different kinds of meat. It was very, very good. We visited the National Museum of Anthropology which was pretty amazing and then the Modern Art Museum which was just okay.
     Mexico City: Paseo de la Reforma and Chapultepec Park  (Judy)
     Mexican Gray Squirrel  (Bob)
     Inca Dove  (Bob)

Popo, Izta, Amecameca and Tlalmanalco:
Monday, March 12, we ate breakfast again at El Tono. I got several tostadas and a tamarind drink and Judy got enchiladas verde. Arnold Pedroza, our guide, picked us up at 9:30 a.m. and we headed south out of the city and drove up to the 11,159 foot saddle between Popocatepetl ("Popo") and Iztaccihuatl ("Izta") called the Pass of Cortes. Popo, the second tallest mountain in Mexico at 17,802 feet, was closed to climbing because it was erupting, but we stopped at a visitors center and got some views of it, although cloud covered. Then we drove over to the trailhead for Izta at about 13,000 feet. Izta is the third tallest mountain in Mexico at 17,160 feet. It was a rough dirt road and we walked a short distance and felt the effects of the high altitude. We drove back down the mountain to Amecameca and ate at Panes Y Pasteles de Tenango. We enjoyed tlalpeno soup, cecina (beef with guacamole, beans and cheese), tortilla soup, Aztec soup, enchiladas verde and cajeta crepe (got milk dulce) which was very good. We walked over to the nearby Templo de la Virgen de las Asuncion, which had been greatly damaged by the earthquake earlier in the year and was undergoing extensive restoration. On our way back to Mexico City we stopped in Tlalmanalco at the Church of San Luis Obispo, which also was significantly damaged by the earthquake and closed. It was one of the early churches built by the Franciscans. 
     Mexico: Amecameca and Tlalmanalco  (Judy)
     Church of San Luis Obispo - Tlalmanalco  (Bob)

Cuernavaca and Taxco:
Tuesday, March 13, we were picked up by Arnold at 9:00 a.m. for a trip south to Taxco. On our way we stopped along the road for breakfast, then in Cuernavaca at the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, one of the 14 monasteries of Popocatepetle. Taxco is a beautiful city on a hill of white houses and red roofs populating winding streets. We learned about silver, what Taxco is famous for, then had a wonderful lunch at Del Angel Inn, where our guide arranged for us to have salsa made of jumilies (stinkbugs), something Taxco is also known for. We visited the Church of Santa Prisca, right next door, then a silversmith next door to that, where Judy got a necklace, then we walked down the road to our vehicle for the long drive back to Mexico City.
     Mexico: Taxco  (Judy)
     Del Angel Inn Restaurante - Taxco  (Bob)
     Jumiles (Stink Bug) Salsa  (Bob)
     Church of Santa Prisca - Taxco  (Bob)
     Mexico: Fine Dining at El Hidalguense, Casa de los Azulejos, and Del Angel Inn  (Judy)

Virgin of Guadalupe and Teotihuacan:
Wednesday, March 14, Arnold picked us up at 9:00 a.m. for a visit to the New and Old Basilicas of Our Lady of Guadalupe. They were fascinating and I wish we'd had more time there. Then we drove out to Teotihuacan, visiting the  Temple of the Feathered Serpent, walking the Avenue of the Dead, and seeing the spectacular Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. Both of these activities were much better than I'd anticipated. Arnold took us to lunch at a nearby buffet restaurant and then drove us to Benito Juarez Int'l Airport for a flight to Villahermosa, leaving at 7:38 p.m. on Volaris and arriving at 9:13 p.m.
     Mexico City: Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe  (Judy) 

Our friends, Kasey and Julia, serving as heads of the Mexico Villahermosa Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, met us at the airport. We picked up a rental car, then stopped for a wonderful dinner at Tacos de la Estancia before going to the Hilton Inn by Hilton Villahermosa where we stayed while there.

Thursday, March 15, we went to a zone conference that Kasey and Julia were involved in and stayed for an hour or so. Then we drove out to the Mayan ruins at Comalcalco, built of fired red bricks. It was spectacular, but what really stood out for me was the humid heat (my shirt was drenching wet at the end of our visit) and the number of large iguanas lounging around the ruins. Afterwards, we visited a small chocolate plantation and purchased some chocolate, then drove back to Villahermosa where we met Kasey and Julia for dinner at Macario, which had wonderful barbecue.
     Mexico, Villahermosa Day 1: Missionaries, Comalcalco, Cacao, Groceris, and Barbecue  (Judy)
     Comalcalco - Tabasco State, Mexico  (Bob)
     Black Spiney-Tailed Iguana  (Bob)

Friday, March 16, Kasey and Julia picked us up to drive to the Mayan ruins at Palenque. The amazing lime stone buildings set in a mountainous green countryside were spectacular. Afterwards, they took us to a tall, thin waterfall, known as the Cascades de Misol-Ha which we were able to walk underneath and behind without getting wet. We drove into the City of Palenque and enjoyed dinner at the Restaurante Estado de Cuenta in the Hotel Ciudad Real Palenque and then got to visit their home afterward.
     Mexico, Villahermosa Day 2: Palenque and Misol-Ha  (Judy)
     Palenque - Chiapas State, Mexico  (Bob)

Saturday morning, March 17, we went for a drive with Kasey and Julia around Villahermosa, in some rural portions where Kasey often rides has bike. We saw some herons and odd cows in the fields. We went to lunch at someone's home, they knew, and got wonderful grilled whole fish (that looked like tilapia). They had to leave to attend a zone conference some distance away, so Judy and I went to La Venta (zoo and archaeological park) and saw Olmec heads and other archaeological artifacts, jaguars, peccaries and other local animals in cages and coati-mundis walking the grounds. Afterwards we went walking along the lagoon and saw a crocodile and tried some boiled corn covered with cheese and spices from a cart (it was great). We dropped off our rental car at the airport and flew from Villahermosa back to Mexico City, leaving at 9:39 p.m. on Volaris and arriving at 11:25 p.m. We took an Uber back to the Maria Cristina Hotel where we'd stayed before.
     Cattle Egret  (Bob)
     Great-Tailed or Mexican Grackle  (Bob)
     White-Nosed Coati or Coatimundi  (Bob)
     Morelet's (or Mexican Crocodile)  (Bob)

Huejotzingo, Cholula and Puebla:
Sunday, March 18, Arnold Pedroza picked us up for a trip south again, this time to Puebla. Our first stop was in Huejotzingo to one of the 14 monasteries of Popocatepetl. It was probably my favorite church in Mexico, one of the early churches built by the Franciscans with a wonderful mural of the 12 apostles of Mexico. From there it was a short drive to Cholula where we saw the shocking (beautiful) yellow Church and Convent of San Gabriel surrounded by a huge courtyard. The church had lots of murals relating to the Virgin of Guadalupe. We bought some dried grasshoppers in front of the church which we used later in the day on a taco. We visited a small museum about the Great Pyramid of Cholula which is mostly covered by dirt and appears to be a hill with a church on top, the Church of Our Lady of Remedies. The line to go inside the pyramid which is underground was too long and we decided to forgo the hike up to the church in order to get to Puebla. I want to go back to Cholula to visit those two sites and to get one of the iconic photos of the church in the foreground with Popo in the background. We drove to Puebla and had a wonderful meal at Pepita en Comal. Judy had a green mole, I had red mole and Arnold had chocolate mole. I used a tortilla, some guacamole and then added the dried crickets to have a cricket taco - not bad. We walked through the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of Puebla, the Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman and its very richly decorated chapel with gold everywhere. Puebla is another place we could come back to and spend some time. Lots to do and see which we missed. It was another late drive back to Mexico City after a magnificent day of sightseeing.
     Monastery of San Miguel Arcangel - Huejotzingo  (Bob)
     Church and Convent of San Gabriel - Cholula  (Bob)
     Chapulines (Grasshopper) Taco  (Bob)

Mexico City:
Monday, March 19, we were on our own without a guide. We contemplated much and did very little. We got an Uber to Hosteria de Santo Domingo which we'd called and were told was open, then nobody would open the door. So we started to walk to another restaurant we'd seen with Victor that he said was one of his favorites, Casino Espanol. We got a very nice chocolate drink and one dish of red chilaquiles with a beef steak and another with an egg, beef steak, cactus pad and beans. We'd frittered away most of the morning and had to get back to the hotel, pick up our bags and take Uber to the airport.

Mexico City to Los Angeles:
We left Mexico City on Delta at 4:52 and arrived at LAX at 8:22 p.m.

Mexico is an A+ destination. Much better than more exotic sounding places further away. We'll be back. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Neotropic Cormorant

In Villahermosa, Mexico, while at La Venta on the Laguna de las Ilusiones, I photographed several cormorants and I've struggled to determine whether they are neotropic cormorants, double crested cormorants, or one or more of both. 
I'm pretty sure this is a neotropic cormorant as it has the white edge to the throat patch. 
As far as range is concerned, neotropic cormorants have a much greater range in Mexico than double crested cormorants, but they are both found in Villahermosa and can be found roosting together. 
Range of the neotropic cormorant (from Wikipedia).
Range of the double crested cormorant (from Wikipedia). 
The neotropic is smaller and more slender than the double crested, frequently holds its neck in an "s" shape, and has mainly black plumage with a yellow/brown throat patch. During breeding a white edge develops on the throat patch. Juveniles are brownish in color. 
I'm less certain on this one. It does have an "s" shaped neck and is about the same size as the one above (I saw them near each other). The significant brown may indicate it is still a juvenile. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Young Ostrich - Grilled

I'd had ostrich meat a few times previous, but it wasn't until going to South Africa that I fell in love with ostrich meat. I think the single best piece of meat we had in Southern Africa, out of lots of good game meat, was an ostrich steak at Karibu in Cape Town. It was tender, had a nice flavor and was very moist. 
An ostrich near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
For a book group I belong to we recently read the book by Trevor Noah, Born a Crime, about his growing up in South Africa. So we decided to have a South African themed dinner with ostrich, eland and bunny chow, which I'll post on later.

I called a good friend, Claudia, who along with her husband, Anshu, own Exotic Meat Market. Claudia raises ostriches and she had some meat from a young two month old ostrich she'd raised. She said it would be good and tender. 

It was very dark and came in small pieces. All I did to cook it was put on oil, salt and pepper and place it on our outdoor gas grill for a little while, making sure it would be rare and tender. 
Ostrich meat with oil, salt and pepper.
It was incredible. So soft, so juicy, so flavorful. Ostrich has shot up to the top of my list of game meats and now I know that young ostrich is the best of the best. 
Ostrich meat cut up into small pieces for our guests. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Ontario

Our son, Andrew, lives in New York City and we try to get out and visit him once a year. Judy has four other siblings and they planned to do a cruise with their spouses in Eastern Canada in 2018. We decided to combine that cruise with a visit with Andrew. 

I will provide an outline of our trip as well as links to posts I've done about it that generally relate to food, animals and religion. Judy does step-by-step posts on our trips but has been bogged down on posts for trips to Central Asia and Southern Africa. If she does get around to posting about this trip, I'll provide links to her posts as well.

Overall, we met Andrew in Bangor, Maine and spent the next 3 1/2 days with him driving up into New Brunswick and then back down through Maine to Boston where we caught our cruise and Andrew flew back to New York. Our cruise had stops in Bar Harbor, Maine; Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Quebec City and Montreal, Quebec; and we ended our trip by renting a car and driving to Ottawa, Ontario, before flying home to California. 

Flight to Maine:
We left Los Angeles (LAX) on Tuesday, August 7, 2018, on Delta at 11:05 a.m. for JFK in New York with a projected flight time of five hours and ten minutes. By the time we got near New York it was experiencing a horrible thunder storm and we circled widely for an hour, seeing frequent and huge bolts of lightening. Once we landed, we spent an additional hour on the tarmac waiting, along with all of the other delayed flights, for a space to open up to unload. Andrew was going to join us at JFK on our Endeavor Air dba Delta Connection flight to Bangor, scheduled to leave at 10:00 p.m. We originally had a two hour window, but that flight was delayed as well and we did not board our flight at JFK until around 1:00 a.m., three hours late. Once we boarded we sat on the tarmac for another hour. After a two hour flight we arrived in Bangor about 4:00 a.m. and caught a cab (the rental car place was closed) to the Quality Inn Bangor Airport where we spent 45 minutes in their lobby while they tried to get us our room back. We had prepaid our room through, but they closed it out about 3:00 a.m. when we did not show up. We got to our room about 5:00 a.m. and slept until about 9:10 a.m. It was a tough way to start a trip. 

I got a shuttle to the airport to get our rental car, then back to the hotel to pick up Judy and Andrew. We'd originally planned to leave by 8:30 a.m. It was about 10:00 a.m. when we checked out. We'd planned to visit a chocolate museum and chocolatier in St. Stephen, NB and then had reservations for a 2.5 to 3 hour whale watching tour with Quoddy Link Marine in St. Andrews, NB starting at 1:30 p.m., with a 1:00 p.m. check-in time. Then we learned that there was a one hour time change to the Atlantic Time Zone I'd never heard of before, which gave us an hour less, and still had a 2 1/2 hour drive, which meant that if everything worked perfectly, we'd get there right as the boat was leaving. Judy got on the phone with Quoddy and they said they would wait for us and I put the peddle to the metal and drove as fast as I could. At the Canadian border I explained to the border crossing guard that we were probably going to miss our whale watching trip and needed to hurry and I think he intentionally sent us inside for a more formal inspection which added 15 minutes. 

New Brunswick:
Judy was literally on the phone with Quoddy letting them know where we were as we drove down to the end of the pier to a spot they reserved for us. They held the boat 15 minutes for us and did not leave until 1:45 p.m. I can't say enough good about Quoddy Link Marine for how they treated us.

The boat left St. Andrews and passed through Passamaquoddy Bay out into the Bay of Fundy. We saw seals, various sea birds, particularly the great shearwater, and quite a few humpback whales. It was a lot of fun.
     Humpback Whales - Bay of Fundy  (Bob)
     Great Shearwater  (Bob)
     Sooty Shearwater  (Bob)
     American Herring Gull  (Bob)
     Great Black-Backed Gull  (Bob)
     Western Atlantic Harbor Seal  (Bob)
One of our guides recommended we eat at Spear's near the beginning of the pier and we had an okay picnic style lobster, some salads, corn and beans.
     Spear's Fishing & Charter - St. Andrew's, New Brunswick  (Bob)

We drove about an hour to St. John, NB and stopped just briefly at the Reversing Falls Bridge. All was calm and it did not look worth the price to go in, so we drove to and checked into the Chipman Hill Suites on Union Street. Back out to the car, we visited the beautiful Irving Nature Park and walked into the forest on a small peninsula while Andrew looked for mushrooms, his favorite pastime. Afterwards we drove to a store and picked up some supplies for a home-made dinner in our hotel room which included a stove and refrigerator.

Thursday morning, August 9, we'd not had much sleep the night before. I got up early and tip-toed out to let Judy and Andrew get more sleep. In shorts, flip-flops and umbrella in hand, I walked into the jaws of a thunderstorm and down pour about a block and a half to the St. John City Market. Not much was open, but the size and variety of shops belied the fantastic things I'd read about it.

We drove a little more than an hour to St. Martins where I allowed a sign to cause an unplanned stop at Seaside Restaurant for a quick taste of the "world's best" fish chowder and a lobster roll. It wasn't. Andrew chided me for not looking at Yelp or Trip Advisor. He was right. From there it was not too far to the Fundy Trail Parkway, a 12 mile drive along the beautiful Fundy coast. This was one of my favorite activities of our trip. There were very few people, perhaps discouraged by the rainy weather. Umbrellas in hand, we slowly walked a trail near Flower Pot Rock, and ogled the variety of shaggy barked trees, flowers and landscape. Andrew is a gem companion when exploring the understory. We drove a little further and hiked a short distance to a waterfall where Andrew found lots of chanterelle mushrooms. After visiting the Interpretive Center, we drove back out to St. Martins, then up through Sussex and south down Hwy 114 through Fundy National Park to Alma. Because of the lateness of the day and the rain, we didn't really see much of anything of Fundy National Park, but I think we caught the best of the scenery along the Fundy Trail Parkway. We did stop in Alma, which was much larger than I'd envisioned it to be, at Kelly's Bake Shop where we stocked up on some cookies and pastries. We drove another 60 minutes to Hopewell Rocks Park, another jewel, and walked out among the incredible eroded sea stacks. Tide was coming up as we left. Another amazing destination. We drove 30 minutes north to Moncton and had dinner at Skipper Jack's and the best poutine we had on the trip, double lobster poutine with a whitish gravy. We spent the night at Amsterdam Inn & Suites in Moncton.
     Seaside Restaurant - Saint Martins, New Brunswick  (Bob)
     Skipper Jack's Maritime Restaurant - Moncton, New Brunswick  (Bob)

Our drive up through Maine had been on Hwy 9, then Hwy 1 and Hwy 114 in New Brunswick. Friday morning, August 10, we decided to alter our route on the way back, more inland. So we took Hwy 2 most of the way, from Moncton to Fredericton, taking an unsuccessful sideways diversion before Fredericton looking for a hiking trail that might provide some mushroom hunting. In Fredericton, we stopped at the Christ Church Cathedral, part of the Anglican Church of Canada, not far from the St. John River. A morning concert was going on, so we were not able to get a good comprehensive view inside. We continued on and Andrew researched a hike on his i-phone near Woodstock: the Maliseet Trail to Hays Falls. It was a great discovery for mushroom hunting. We found and gathered nice quantities of lobster, chanterelle and black chanterelle mushrooms and Hays Falls was beautiful. Afterwards we drove to Woodstock, near the Maine/Canada border, and ate at The River Restaurant, near where the Meduxnecegue River empties into the St. John River.

From there it was a two hour drive along Hwy 95 in Maine southwest to Bangor, where we stayed in the Country Inn at the Mall. We purchased a hibachi, some charcoal and pie tins at a nearby Wal-Mart and set up near the parking lot on a picnic table and cooked the mushrooms we'd picked earlier in pie tins with butter. They were delicious.
     Chanterelle, Black Chanterelle and Lobster Mushrooms  (Bob)

Saturday morning, August 11, we drove south to Wells hoping to eat at the Maine Diner in Wells, a place we'd eaten on an earlier trip to Maine. There was a 45 minute wait. So we detoured to the nearby Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge where we had another fun walk with Andrew who identified a bunch of mushrooms we'd not seen earlier in our trip.

It was about a 3 3/4 hour drive from Bangor to Boston where we dropped of our rental car at Logan Int'l Airport and Andrew caught a flight back to New York. Judy and I caught an Uber to the Port of Boston and we checked-in on the Holland America Maasdam. We set sail about 4:00 p.m.

Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park:
The Maasdam arrived in Bar Harbor, Maine about 7:00 a.m. on Sunday, August 12. The ship was docked off shore and we had to take a tender. We walked around Bar Harbor for an hour or more, looking in shop windows and going in some of the shops that were open. At 9:00 a.m. six of us met At Your Service Taxi for a five hour private tour. We had a great guide who drove us on the 27 mile Park Loop Road to the summit of Cadillac Mountain and made some stops at Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, and perhaps others. Then the best stop of all, Beal's Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor where I had the best lobster I've ever eaten. The ship left Bar Harbor at 3:00 p.m. I've always heard that Acadia was the most beautiful national park. My expectations were so high that I was quite disappointed. It was very crowded and commercial.
     Beal's Lobster Pier - Southwest Harbor, Maine  (Bob)

Halifax, Nova Scotia:
We arrived in Halifax on Monday, August 13, around 9:00 a.m. Our group of ten privately booked the Halifax Tour Guys.  We split up into two vehicles and: (a) visited Citadel Hill, a short distance from the ship, and watched the hourly changing of the guard; (b) spent time walking among the graves of Titanic victims at Fairview Cemetery; (c) stopped at a maple syrup store for a demonstration and some samples; (d) visited the warehouse of Ryer Lobsters Ltd, which has hundreds to thousands of live lobsters in large tanks with nearly freezing water - the largest supplier of lobster to the Netherlands; (e) were dropped off in Peggy's Cove to walk around - I bought a lobster roll from a food truck; and (f) we ate lobster at Shaw's Landing in West Dover. The Maasdam left port at 6:00 p.m.
     U-Cook Lobster - Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia  (Bob)
     Shaw's Landing - West Dover, Nova Scotia  (Bob)

Sydney, Nova Scotia:
On Tuesday, August 14, we arrived in Sydney, Nova Scotia around 10:00 a.m. My brother-in-law, Pete, and I took the ship tour with Bird Island Boat Tours. We traveled 1 1/4 hours each way to Big Bras d'Or and then traveled about 40 minutes each way out to the islands that are nesting areas for puffins, crested cormorants, and great cormorants and a great place to see bald eagles that feed on the puffins. There were also lots of gray seals. This was a highlight for me. Judy and the rest of her family rented a van and and drove to Louisbourg, the Canadian version of Williamsburg. The Maasdam set sail about 6:00 p.m.
     Atlantic Puffin  (Bob)
     Double-Crested Cormorant - Nominate Subspecies  (Bob)
     Great Cormorant  (Bob)
     Bald Eagle  (Bob)
     Ruddy Turnstone  (Bob)
     North Atlantic Gray Seal  (Bob)

Prince Edward Island:
On Wednesday, August 15, we arrived in Charlottetown, PEI at 8:00 a.m. We took the ship sponsored Island Drive & Anne of Green Gables House tour. Along the way we stopped briefly in PEI National Park and stood on the edge of some cliffs overlooking the ocean, and viewed Raspberry Point mussels and oysters being grown in a bay, before arriving in Cavendish where we walked through the Anne of Green Gables House and grounds. We got back to the ship around noon and satiated the desire to try PEI mussels and oysters with a lunch at the Water-Prince Corner Shop, not far from the ship. We walked downtown and spent time at St. Dunstan's Basilica Cathedral, then joined a pre-arranged Confederation Players Walking Tour downtown which included a visit to the Province House where an 1864 Conference on Confederation was held. We learned much more about Canadian history and the coming together of the Canadian provinces. On the way back to the ship we discovered Cows Creamery which originated in PEI in 1983 and is seriously the best array of ice cream we've ever tasted. Our ship sailed at 5:00 p.m.
     Water-Prince Corner Shop - Charlottetown, PEI  (Bob)
     Red Breasted Nuthatch  (Bob)

Quebec City, Quebec:
Thursday, August 16, was a sailing day. I walked seven miles (28 laps around the deck of the ship). Friday morning, August 17, I walked 3.5 miles (14 laps around the deck of the ship). We arrived in Quebec City about 8:00 a.m. We were among the first few off the ship and walked into the lower town of Old Quebec. We stopped at Notre Dame des Victoires (which we toured later on the way back to the ship), then took the funicular up to the Fairmont Le Chateua Frontenac, the most distinctive building in Quebec City. I was surprised to learn it was a hotel. I'd always figured it was a government building. Then we visited a few more churches, Notre Dame de Quebec Basilica Cathedral and the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the cathedral of the Anglican Diocese of Quebec. At 11:00 a.m. we started the Old Quebec Food Tour which started at Chic Shack, then visited La Buche, Chez Boulay and Club Bistro. It was the best food tour we've taken. The tour included a lot of history and a few historic sites thrown in. Afterwards Judy and I walked back to La Buche to eat and were put off by their refusal to speak English (they spoke English to our Food Tour earlier) and eventually made our way back to the ship which left port about 6:00 p.m.
     Old Quebec Food Tour - Quebec City  (Bob)

Ottawa, Ontario:
Saturday, August 18, we docked in Montreal about 7:00 a.m. Judy and I had been to Montreal previously and decided to drive to Ottawa instead. We caught a cab to the Montreal airport where we picked up a car and then drove about two hours (120 miles) to Ottawa. We stopped at Lapointe Fish Ltd. in or near the Byward Market and bought salmon smoked with maple, cold-smoked salmon, smoked arctic char (very strong and fishy). We tried to get tickets for the Canadian Parliament and they were sold out. So walked along Wellington Street on Parliament Hill. We visited the inside of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. Walked across the street and saw the outside of the Canadian Supreme Court building. Then past the Justice Building, the Confederation Building, the Parliament of Canada. Then over to Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, where we caught the tail end of a wedding, and then the National Gallery of Canada, with the wonderful bronze Maman sculpture, a pregnant spider with Notre Dame as a backdrop. We ate dinner at Bite Burger where I had a burger made out of ground ribeye with added blue cheese. Judy had a burger with pineapple. We stayed that night nearby at Delta Hotels by Marriott, Ottawa City Centre.
     Woodchuck  (Bob)
     Parliament Hill and Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica - Ottawa  (Bob)

Sunday morning, August 19, Judy got in line early for Parliament tickets while I found parking for the car. We waited quite a while, but got tickets that required us immediately to run across the street and get in line. We saw the changing of the guard on the east lawn of Parliament Hill. The Old Guard and Pipes and Drums dressed in their red coats and tall bear hats was quite spectacular. Then we were ushered through tight security to the inside of Parliament and saw the Senate, the House of Commons, and the spectacular Library. It was fabulous. We felt very fortunate to visit as it is closing down for ten years for significant restoration. We crossed the street briefly to the National War Memorial, where the guards are stationed, then walked down by the Rideau Canal to the Ottawa River where we got on a Capital Cruises boat for the Ottawa River Historic Sightseeing Cruise. It was another gem. We crossed the river to pick up people in Gatineau, which is in Quebec, then under the Alexandra Bridge along the river where we saw the Prime Minister's home, a number of embassies, and a beautiful waterfall which we went right up to. Back to the car, we drove to Ottawa Macdonald Cartier Airport where we dropped off our rental car and took a Delta flight, operated by Skywest, at 4:40 p.m., with a layover in Detroit and arrived in Los Angeles about 8:00 p.m. We actually entered into the U.S. and did customs at the airport in Ottawa which was kind of nice. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Mashed Potatoes, Veggies and Seal

One of my previous posts showed some bottled seal meat and mentioned that it was very dense and not very flavorful. Bottled meat is a way to preserve large quantities of meat made available by hunting.
These are large chunks of seal meat out of the bottle. 
I wanted to see if the seal meat would be more palatable when added as an ingredient to a dish. I made some mashed potatoes as a base, and added butter (and cream cheese to some). 

Judy chopped an onion, a red pepper and some carrots which I sauteed in a pan with some olive oil, adding a healthy dose of cayenne pepper to give it a kick. Toward the end I added frozen corn, frozen peas and some of the bottled seal, chopped up into smaller pieces.
The seal meat was chopped into smaller chunks. 
The seal meat was added to the wok toward the end of frying. 
The mashed potatoes were formed into a little bowl and the chopped veggies and seal were added on top. 
My first batch of potatoes and fried vegetables and seal meat. 
My second batch. The difference was that I added cream cheese to the mashed potatoes. I liked it better. The mashed potatoes provided a rich background for the veggies and meat. 
The seal meat was transformed into something else entirely. There was no bland denseness. It took on some of the flavor of the frying and had a much more pleasant texture. I quite liked it and looked forward to left overs for my dinner several days later.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

White-Crowned Wheatear

Another bird from the Erg Chebbi Desert of Morocco that I photographed several years ago was the white-crowned wheatear, also known as the white-crowned black wheatear, closely related to the black wheatear. It has a range including many pockets of North Africa and much of Saudi Arabia. The "wheat" and "ear" are 16th century linguistic corruptions of the words for "white" and "arse," referring to the white rump in many wheatears. 
White-crowned wheatear
It is all black, except for a white rump, mainly white tail and a white crown (but only in adults). Males and females look similar. It mainly eats insects. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Black Wheatear

Several years ago in the Moroccan Erg Chebbi Desert I got photos of this small black bird that looked like the familiar black phoebe of the western U.S. I spent a fair amount of time trying to identify it and it was only after I went through a list of birds of North Africa, looking at a picture on each link, that I found it, almost the last bird on the list.  
Black wheatear
The black wheatear breeds on cliffs and rocky slopes in western North Africa and Iberia and nests in crevices in rocks. This male is all black, including legs, feet and bill, except for a white rump and mostly white tail. The eyes are dark brown. The female is similar, but brown where the male is black. It mainly eats insects. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Marinated Bottled Seal Meat

A friend gave me a bottle of marinated bottled seal meat from Newfoundland and Labrador (a province of), Canada. The listed ingredients are seal meat, salt meat, onion and spices. It was made by Kavanagh's Seafoods of Ferryland, NL which is on the east coast of Newfoundland, south of St. John's. My friend has connections to an Inuit family that lives in New Foundland and seal and moose are a regular source of meat for them. However, apparently seal was very difficult to obtain this year because the ice pack melted much earlier than usual and the seals were more difficult to catch. 
Trip Advisor has a listing for Bernard Kavanagh's Million Dollar View Restaurant in Ferryland which gets mediocre to poor reviews. In a 12 year old Narkive Newsgroup Archive someone asks the question whether anyone knows where "canned or bottled seal meat" can be purchased in the vicinity of St. John's. A person responds, "Gerard Kavanagh in Ferryland...makes up bottled Seal, Moose, Caribou, pork hocks, etc." 

In an internet search for seal meat and Newfoundland, I found a January 17, 2017 article in the National Post, "Would you eat Newfoundland seal - 'one of the most sustainable seafoods in the country'?" A Vancouver chef was causing a controversy by putting seal meat on his menu. Animal activists such as Paul McCartney and Pamela Anderson have spoken out against the "East Coast seal hunt" and label it as an example of "extreme animal cruelty." By contrast, a Nunavut nutritionist states, "Honestly, we eat what we know. We like to eat the things we grew up with...I don't know how we pick and choose which animals we find socially acceptable to use as food. The idea of just not eating seals or any food on the basis that it's cute doesn't make any sense." 

A CBC story dated December 8, 2014, "St. John's chefs push benefits of seal meat" notes that seal meat is not often eaten in St. John's except for in "flipper pie." The featured cooks created a dish of seal loins pasta seasoned with seal jerky and state that seal has "a unique flavor...similar to [the taste of] pork chop" but that the taste "isn't for all." 

A June 12, 2017 article, "7 foods you must try in Newfoundland" lists flipper pie as one of the seven foods. It consists of seal flippers in a pie traditionally made following the seal hunt in mid-March and April. The revealed secret of a good flipper pie is to remove every ounce of fat from the seal flippers.

An April 1, 2014 article in the The Globe and Mail, titled "Why this New Foundland chef is hungry for controversy with 'delicious' seal meat" features chef Todd Perrin with a restaurant in St. John's. He says seal meat has a "bad rep" from "a culinary perspective." The reputation is a result of "poor handling and uninspired cooking" and he's determined to change perceptions. Seal meat has a high oil content which makes it volatile and "prone to turning rancid."  It is "extremely lean,...extremely red and...a bit bloody. The taste is reminiscent of duck with a slight aquatic gaminess and an subtle iron aftertaste." It should be eaten almost immediately, at least within two or three days, although within ten minutes is ideal. After that it degrades in a "funky and unpleasant way."

A recipe for bottled seal meat, which looks similar to the ingredients on the bottle I have, calls for 5 lbs. of seal meat cut into one inch chunks (the chunks in my bottle are substantially larger), 10 slices of salt pork 1 1/2 inch long by 1/4 inch thick, salt and pepper and garlic powder. Use a teaspoon of salt on the meat for each quart. Put a slice of salt pork at the bottom of each jar and tightly pack meat into the jar up to the shoulder, then put another slice of salt pork on top. Put on lids and put the jars in a stock pot for four hours, then remove and allow them to cool. It can be stored up to 12 months in a refrigerator or cool place. This article on canning meat talks about the differences between packing with raw meat and cooked meat, dry canning vs. packing with liquid, etc.

This is the view inside the jar. The chunks of seal are very large.
The meat is very dark, very dense, very dry and his little flavor. The next project it to use the bottled meat in some kind of recipe, similar to the canned and bottled moose Judy made into a meat and potato pie.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Pronghorn Antelope - Antelope Island

Antelope Island was named after a pronghorn antelope shot by John C. Fremont and Kit Carson on the island in 1845. 

However, it appears that pronghorns disappeared from the island at some point until 1993 when they were reintroduced. Ten years later, in 2003, another 99 pronghorns were introduced to the island to increase the herd size. Today there are an estimated 200 pronghorn antelope on the island and an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 pronghorn in the State of Utah. 

I've been to Antelope Island quite a few times, from my youth up, but I'd never seen a pronghorn on the island until last year when I visited with my granddaughters. I asked a ranger when we visited the best place to find them. She told us to look on the east side of the island, in the flats, down toward the Fielding Garr Ranch. We did see several, at a great distance, but I had a good lense with me. 
The Great Salt Lake and Wasatch Range in the background. 

This year I visited with my son, Andrew, and asked the same question of the ranger when we checked in. I got the same response. We hiked up to mushroom springs where we saw a small bison herd and Andrew pointed out to me a group of about 13 pronghorns sprinting in single file in the distance below us. Later, on our way out, I saw the antelope grazing off the road at some distance. I decided to stop the car and see if I could approach them on foot. I did get closer than we'd seen them earlier, but they still spooked at some distance. Unfortunately, I only had my iphone, not my SLR with a good telephoto lense. The photos aren't great, but they do show the 16 or so pronghorn I saw. 
Although not real clear in the photo, most of these pronghorns are running away from me. 

These are the only pronghorn I recall seeing in Utah, with the possible exception of some near the Utah/Wyoming border on the way to Evanston. I've seen them in Billings, Montana, in Buena Vista, Colorado and in Custer State Park in South Dakota and driving through Wyoming. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Plains Bison - Antelope Island

Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake. It is 42 square miles: 14.9 miles long and 4.8 miles wide at its widest point. It has a mountainous central spine with the high point being Frary Peak, with an elevation of 6,596 feet, 2,500 feet above the Great Salt Lake. John C. Fremont and Kit Carson gave the island its name in 1845, just a few years before the Mormons arrived, in honor of an antelope they shot and ate there. 

The Mormons controlled the island from 1848 to 1870 when it was sold to John Dooly who established the Island Improvement Company. 12 bison were taken to the island by boat by Dooly in 1893. The State of Utah purchased the northern part of the island in 1969 from the Island Improvement Company and the southern part, including the Fielding Garr Ranch, in 1981. Antelope Island State Park was formed that same year. The bison herd is kept at numbers between 550 and 700, the amount deemed sustainable. Extra bison are rounded up each year in October and sold, some to be transported to live elsewhere and some are slaughtered for meat. 
Antelope Island is accessed by a seven mile long causeway from Syracuse, near Hill Air Force Base. When the water level is low, like it was when Andrew and I visited in November, the island basically becomes a peninsula.  
The Fielding Garr Ranch is 11 miles south of the causeway on the east side. That is where the paved road ends. A dirt road continues on for a ways. About a half mile south down the dirt road is a parking area for the 5.6 miles Sentry Trail. About a half mile up the trail, which is a dirt road, is Mushroom Springs, a series of springs which were mostly dry when we visited. Andrew spotted it on the map and asked if we could hike to it. It was a nice choice because we saw a herd of about 40 bison to the south, a smaller herd of about 13 bison near the spring, and a lone bull above the spring. 
Small bison herd with the Wasatch Range in the background. The white in the background is salt flats where the water in the Great Salt Lake has evaporated. 
The same herd with a different view. 
One of the springs has been turned into a nice guzzler, with continuously flowing water surrounded by rocks. Large goldfish or small koi live in the water and presumable keep the algae down. 
The guzzler surrounded by large rocks and gravel. 
Herd near the guzzler.
The solitary bull came down while we were there and we ended up being between it and the small herd. He seemed a little agitated and let out a series of quite loud grunts (see this Youtube video of a grunting bison). There was a solitary Russian olive tree which I found sanctuary under in the event that the bull decided it didn't like me. 

View from under the tree. 
The solitary bull went to one of the dry springs and rolled around in the dirt. He walked right by the tree I was under, near the small herd, then retreated again. 
Bull rolling in the dry spring.
The dust still flies as it gets back up.
The same bull rolling in a different place, in the grass. I'm viewing from the hoped for safety of the Russian olive tree.
The bison are a real treat and make Antelope Island a fun destination.