Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Clinch River Raptor Center is Exceptional

This post is for new readers who may not have seen the photos and read the stories of birds of prey contained in this blog. Postings carry subject titles: Look for "Raptors and Raptor Rehab" in the categories list a short scroll down the right column. Click there to open links to several posts about the birds. You will see photos of owls, hawks and even vultures.  The long term resident hawks and owls are pictured and you should find those photographs for the most part beautiful, entertaining and educational. 

 This Barn Owl had a broken wing and was very weak
when first brought to the center. The caretaker and veterinarian 
did not think it would live.

Whether Barred owls,  little Eastern Screech Owls, enticing and fierce appearing Great Horned Owls or the Barn Owls, focused determined hunters with white wings giving an almost angelic appearance... these will be at the Clinch River Raptor Center from time to time.  The birds are there to heal and be returned to the wild after some tragic event could have cost their lives. Fortunate rescued birds have injury or illness which will respond to treatment and the bird can recover and be set free.   The unfortunate are too badly injured, sick or malnourished to survive but do get a chance to live they would not have if left in the wild.  When a bird must be euthanized,  it will go to sleep and pass on in peace with out the suffering inflicted by death in the wild.

The same applies to the day hunters, the hawks rescued and living at the Clinch River Raptor Center.  Hawks and other day hunting raptors within the area served by the center generally include the smallest falcons, Kestrels. A summer ago the center was a nursery for several groups of these small hunters with 8 to 12 kestrels all chirping for food.  These birds were healthy but without parents or a natural home,  Having left their nests for some reason and unable to return, the youngsters were raised, taught to hunt and when ready were released.  The same summer saw a large population of baby screech owls...natural comedians and in a group of 12 the cuteness was almost too much and we all were amused. Still, each would find its own way in the wild once grown enough to release.

This is the same Barn Owl many weeks later.  The bird had  an amazing recovery and gained full use of the broken wing, an unexpected result. The tireless and constant care of dedicated staff
led to one fine day when the bird was released on a farm with much open land.  
The owl made a home in a barn there.

A great many of the raptors brought to the center are healed and set free.  Always it is an exciting and joyful event to see a bird fly to freedom and back to the life nature intended. The rehabilitation worked!   A rare few are injured in a way that will heal but still will not allow the bird to survive in nature. For instance, a bird with damaged eyesight or a broken wing which healed but will not support active flight can not be returned to the place it once claimed  home in nature. These birds are trained to be educational raptors, being part of programs designed to promote knowledge of the raptors and ultimately welfare for the birds in the wilds of nature itself, nature often being forced into coexistence and land sharing with human invasion.  Educational birds have a home for life at the Clinch River Raptor Center.   They receive excellent care and are able to carry on with their particular disability.
 This Osprey was found struggling and almost dead near a lake. Fortunately, the bird responded to treatment and was released to fly free at a lake where it might have less competition.  Sometime previously,  another Osprey was found shot and also near death.  At first it was believed to be the male of a nesting pair then raising chicks.  With only the mother to care for the babies, chances of survival were slim.  The bird gave it all but died from its wound. As for the nesting birds, the male showed up soon after and we realized the bird that died was a different Osprey.  The nesting birds are regular every year, using the same nest atop a power line tower overlooking the lake. A few nest repairs are made and  each year they raise new chicks. That shooter took the life of one magnificent bird. Had that bird been the male from the active nest, the toll would have been one adult and two chicks, all for a "little fun" shooting at illegal act, certainly.
(I must apologize for the poor quality of this photograph.)

The Clinch River Raptor Center sets free the minds of children,  giving them a small glimpse into the real world of nature and birds of prey.  Located in a middle school, volunteer students spend part of a school year after classes visiting the center. There they learn about hawks, owls, occasional vultures and other birds more rarely like the Osprey. 

The students learn how to clean cages and feed the birds. While most birds are fed dead mice, special diets must match the natural food of the particular bird. The Osprey got fish..talapia from a local market! Penguins eat fish and smell like fish. So do Ospreys.

A few of the students are able to take part in educational events, holding a raptor on a gloved hand to be seen and appreciated.   How many middle school students have held an adult Barred Owl, Eastern Screech Owl or Red Tailed Hawk?  Those who have do not forget the experience and carry with them an honest appreciation of nature, an appreciation that remains through future years.

To me, the birds of prey are another of the creations of God, misunderstood by many people but bound to interact some place, some way. I now see the second part of that statement applies to the critters of nature and also to the nature of God.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bread Pudding,,a Holiday Delight Dessert Style with Nuts and Chocolate

This is my first time to cook bread pudding. I chose ingredients for a dessert style. As I understand, this type of pudding came about as a means to use old bread and let none go to waste.  The dish varies greatly from culture to culture. I have found people either like it or absolutely will not even take a bite...the same way some people avoid fine cheesecake and miss a true culinary delight.   This particular recipe is a basic form with my choice of added ingredients.  Feel free to add you own personal touches such as berries, etc., staying aware not to add much excess liquid which could make the dish too wet and the custard not properly cooked. 
Shown below, a dollop of sherbet adorns the pudding. At Thanksgiving dinner, it was served warm topped with fresh whipped cream. 

 Bread Pudding...a fine Holiday Treat

Here is the recipe, serving 4 to 8, depending on 
your spoon and generosity:
  • 2  3/4 cups cubed day old French bread
  • 4 eggs,med (no-cage brown eggs if you have them)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1cup milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1 pinch allspice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup nuts, chopped (optional walnuts, pecans)
  • 1/4 cup white chocolate, chips or chopped
  • 8 inch square baking dish
1.    Butter baking dish well.
2.    Place bread cubes in the baking dish, sprinkle on nuts and chocolate holding back some to sprinkle on after liquid is added.
3.    In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Slowly whisk in the milk and cream. Stir in pinch allspice. Pour over the bread. (Taste at this point for spices.) Let set for 25 min while oven heats up.*  (Taste again.) Press bread as needed to keep well into liquid.
4.    Sprinkle with nutmeg, brown sugar, remaining nuts and chocolate. 
5.    Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C)*.
6.    Prepare a water bath for the baking dish by partially filling a larger dish with hot water.
7.    Place the baking dish in the water bath. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve either hot or chilled. 

French Bread...some call it a Baguette.  The dough style is regulated in France but not particularly the shape.  This is hard bread and wonderful for many uses. Why mention it? Depending on your knives and keenness of edge, you may need a serrated blade to quickly cut the baguette.  Cut into slices about 1/2 inch thick then cut across twice to cube.  As you can see, I was rescued by a Japanese Dozuki saw and made short work of the bread and the cutting board!  (Not wanting anyone without a dozuki to feel left out preparing this dish, use a sharp serrated or very sharp knife of your choice, like I really did.)

 The hard French Bread was cut into cubes the
day before and put into a plastic bag left
open and placed in the refrigerator.
This way it was both day old and pristine.
The Recipe Is Above. Simply follow it along.  The photos below illustrate the steps in making your bread pudding...

Bread with custard liquid added and sprinkled 
with nuts and chocolate

A smaller dish was used to press the bread into the liquid.  Allow to soak about 25 minutes and turn on the
oven to preheat during this time

 The pudding before baking

Water bath used for gentle baking 
of the custard mixture

In the oven, ready to bake
The bread pudding straight from the oven

There it is...  This festive holiday bread pudding is a tasty morsel and really quite easy to prepare

A word to the wise:  I knew the flavors would blend and work to fullness overnight in the refrigerator.  That did happen with one surprise:  Black Walnut Take Over!

English walnuts would not have done it and neither would the pecans.  Those costly black walnuts raised a level of determination to be noticed and when reheated on Thanksgiving Day, it was almost a black walnut takeover.  I had been concerned about using too much problem with any of the spices and the flavor there was wonderful.  As for the black walnuts, lets simply say there was no hiding in the background or in the bouquet to those nuts.  It was delicious and the walnuts tasted bold and fine.  What I learned was not to use any more than I did the next time a holiday bread pudding is to be made.

Reheating:  This must be a gentle process to keep the custard from becoming too thick.  You can use a water bath in the oven at a low temperature, checking often on the warmth of the pudding.  If in a microwave proof dish, simply reheat in the microwave.  I did this one for about 8 minutes at 30% power, checking often and adding a minute as needed.  Low power must be used in reheating. 

Your you have a variation of bread pudding to share? Please e-mail me (link at page top right). 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Where is GOD? The final page is written

Posting will continue soon after the American holiday of Thanksgiving is passed. The first post will be BREAD PUDDING, my cooking illustrated.  Certainly chefs of New Orleans and Birmingham or Yorkshire will be thrilled at this take on the old simple dish for using up left over bread...or they will certainly not be thrilled and turn away with a sigh.  For readers here, the photos should be interesting enough on this first attempt at the dish. I will report on the "taste" based on reception by in-laws and outlaws tomorrow at the dinner, each one a critic of sorts.

See the tabs above at header to read strangely different thoughts on a search for God. I got into the subject and twisted about in there. It is now concluded for what it may be worth.  Any thoughts you have will be appreciated.

The page on  "Rescued Pets" and Cats living in this household will be next to fill out.  I have been too concerned of necessity with other events to write effectively as I would like. The stories of the cats deserve to be written and done so to hold interest and provide a touch of humor here and there in the mix. There is joy and stuff to giggle over and with honesty there is sadness and reality.  The photos are being made of the present cats;  those of cats passed on are gathered and being re-edited as needed. The time has come to do that page.
Your Story
E-mail me your rescued pet story if you want. I might find a way to publish it here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fallen Hostas, Fall is Leaving Us,,,

When winter approaches, the leaves lean closer to the earth each day. When all are hugging the earth around them, the color becomes a lovely yellow, a color hidden all summer and now a joyful way to end a summer and say goodbye for the season.

 Hostas, a natural greeting to winter and good bye to autumn
Joyful, joyful for each season...and to live where each  has its own distinctive vision and touch to our skin...that is good. Winter is coming.