Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Creepy Cool: I found a snake's skin. Or did I?

So the other day I was doing more gardening. We have statice growing in our yard that is completely over grown. So I decided to thin out the dead leaves by stripping them from the stalk in the hopes it would encourage new growth. I was well into the task when I discovered this:

I thought to myself: "Ooooh a snake skin!"

Then I saw a second piece that went with the first. Later, I found one more piece that was more deteriorated than the first set.

I quickly realized that snakes must love the tightly packed leaves of the statice because the dead leaves and stalks dry hard allowing them to slide between them which helps them to literally crawl out of their skin.

I brought the skin inside to photograph ot because I thought it was beautiful and kind of creepy cool.

Which is when I noticed the snake had toes. Say what?


Ah! It wasn't a snake skin, it was a lizard skin! LOL. That made sense too as we have Alligator Lizards all over San Jose and I've spotted them many times even in our backyard. I may have even met the lizard who left this skin as I  once found a huge lizard just lying on the back walk. I had to literally pick him up and move him under a shrub to keep Kitai from finding him. And probably eating him.

The moment I looked for more evidence that this was a lizard, not a snake, I found small humps that belonged to the lizard's hind legs.

The tail, could have been either. This must be the hardest part for the lizard to shed. It's tightly compacted and pulled inside out like when you take off your socks.

Now that I realize the lizards use those dead leaves I've decided to leave the rest. I think I'll get some nice rocks to pile up beside them in a grotto sort of manner to give them places to rest and plant some lower greenery in front of them. Maybe succulents. Succulents would be good there because it doesn't get a lot of water. It'll look great. I'll post about it when I get around to actually doing it.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Summertime Salad Potluck

Last Saturday I attended a super fun Potluck-Dinner-Party. It was my friend Carl's Birthday so he threw a Salad Potluck. Each guest brought at least one salad. We lined them up on a table and aside from dietary restrictions (and preferences), everyone sampled all that they could.

We came up with the idea for this party all the way back in March while on our Saratoga photo adventure. He wanted to have a dinner party this summer. I think he is a very generous home chef and deserves a break once in a while so I suggested having another potluck like the Green and Funky Food Dinners. So, he decided to use it as a theme for his Birthday!

It was saladtastic!

Top Row
1. Antipasto
2. Asian Chicken
3. Spinach, Goat Cheese, Almonds, Strawberries, Champagne Dressing
4. Cucumber Salad

Center Row
1. Zucchini Crudo
2. Fresh Corn, Tomato & Basil
3. Warm German Potato
4. Hail Kale!

Bottom Row
1. Cesar
2. Macaroni
3. Greek
4. Fresh Fruit Fondue

And even though he had reservations about using Evite, I convinced him it was the best choice to allow each guest to share what kind of salad they would be bringing so he could avoid duplications without having to micro-manage guests suggestions.

"Please bring your signature salad dish and post which type of salad you plan to bring here with your R.S.V.P. so we can avoid ending up with 7 Caesars and 11 bowls of pasta. Use your imagination and feel free to think outside the leafy green box...or should I say bowl. :-)"

Very cool. Carl thought ahead and had printed salad name tags in place when we arrived with our salads so there was no confusion as to where they went.

One hard thing about attending any kind of potluck is they can be particularly difficult for those with food allergies. It's bad enough when someone breaks out in hives but then there's the kind that make people go into anaphylactic shock and die if they eat even one bite of a nut or seafood.

I've always asked dinner guests if they're allergic to anything so I can omit it from my menu that evening. In the case of a potluck I think it makes a lot of sense to print signs like the sample above that take consideration for your guests to a whole new level. List only the ingredients your guests are sensitive to. When people bring their dish they can simply circle which ones are or aren't in their dish. Those with the allergies can tell at a glance what is safe for them to eat! I think it's a kind of brilliant idea.

This would also work for food preferences. For example, you could simply list: Meat, Eggs, Dairy for vegetarians and vegans.

It was a huge success! Carl really knows how to entertain. I saw old friends and made new ones too! There was more than enough food and since everyone brought their salads in a bowl, they were able to easily take any leftovers home with them too. 

This was my plate. I ate some of every salad then had seconds and thirds of my favorites.

Robert and Carl

As a special surprise Carl decided to have an informal contest with prizes! After sampling all of them we each voted for our favorite three salads. Robert won twice! His Asian Chicken Salad came in 1st, Joe and Diane's Fresh Corn, Tomato and Basil salad came in 2nd, and Robert's Warm German Potato Salad came in third!

For me, the evening was extra special because every time Carl has ever invited me over for dinner he's invited hubby too. But hubby always declines because he's a really picky eater who likes super simple food. So imagine our shock when not only did he accept the dinner invitation, he decided to bring three salads with him! He made his favorite Cesar, Greek and Cucumber salads.

Hubby ate five kinds of salad and strawberries for dessert!

People really liked the Cucumber Salad. In fact he struck up a conversation with another guest going on and on about how he used a special sea salt, imported from Finland, dried and crushed by elderly women. But wait, there was more. He spun his yarn that after crushing, the salt is then placed in burlap sacks that are put into wooden kegs to absorb their flavor. In the end he admitted it wasn't true. It was just his attempt to mock foodies like Carl and I. LOL. At least he found a way to have some fun and amuse himself.

While I was marveling that hubby was there at all the Birthday Boy was just hanging out listening to music.

We enjoyed a great performance by The Pepperlanders.

Make that live music! The Pepperlanders are William Mezzell, Doug Montgomery and Mike Duffy. They're a Beatles cover band. They serenaded us most of the evening singing all kinds of classics any Beatles or non-Beatles fan would recognize. It added a very special touch to the party. You can hear them too by Clicking Here.

During and after dinner we all eventually ended up around the fire pit. It wasn't your typical Birthday party. It was fun, delicious and unique. The party was a huge success and I'm sure this was just the first of many salad potlucks to come at Carl's house. You should plan your own while summer is still in full swing!

BTW, I wish we had a fire pit in our yard. In fact I wish we would have a BBQ or two each season. There's a wonderful sense of camaraderie that occurs around a fire. Maybe we'll have one this year. Definitely next year :)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

How big is a hummingbird's nest?

The one in my backyard is an inch and a half wide and high! I thought since the babies had fledged I could pop up on the ladder to take a picture of the nest with a ruler beside it because some of you had asked how big is the hummingbird's nest?

Well, since one of the babies had been hanging out in the same tree for the past week I didn't want to cause a ruckus and climb the ladder and freak the fledgling out. So I waited. And waited. And waited.

Today the baby left the tree and flew to a neighbor's tree then up to the power line. Which was the perfect opportunity for me to haul out the ladder with tape measure in hand.

I also took a picture of the inside of the nest. It looked so soft and cozy. It's lined with spider webs, feathers, and a few tiny pieces of moss.


Since birds can't smell and mama was nowhere in sight, I touched the inside of the nest with one finger to see what it felt like. I can tell you it's like there was nothing there. It was like feeling air, but softer. Those little babies had it good hanging out in their comfy little nest.

If you want to view all of the baby hummingbird posts since day 1 just CLICK HERE.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Summer flavors are on the menu at LYFE Kitchen

The new seasonal menu at LYFE Kitchen has launched and there are several dishes I want to try. A few I had at the spring menu preview event. Others, I'd only read about:

• Sweet Corn Ravioli
• Risotto Peas & Carrots
• Roasted Loch Duart Salmon
• Tomato-corn Panzanella Salad
• Sweet Pea & Broccolini Flatbread
• Beet & Forbidden Rice Salad
• Kale-banana Smoothie

I had the Sweet Corn Ravioli with cherry tomatoes, peas, scallions, garlic and basil ($10.99).
With only 425 calories and 487 mg sodium this is one healthy meal. It's also one of the best dishes I've had yet at LYFE Kitchen.

I also brought my friend and hair stylist Armando Sarabia to LYFE Kitchen for his very first visit. When we arrived after 8:00 PM the place was so busy we had to grab seats at the community table. That made me really happy to see the restaurant thriving. And it's no wonder, their food has only improved over time. Armando LOVED it. He tried Chef Tal Ronnen's Ancient Grain Bowl with Gardein Beefless Tips and ate every last morsel. A new fan for LYFE :)

The large, round raviolis are filled with sweet corn. Yum! To be honest I'm tire and bored with the butternut squash raviolis that are on most menus. Not that they're bad, I'm just tired of them. Corn filled raviolis are definitely more unique.

After the fourth or fifth time saying to hubby (in the restaurant and in the car on the way home) "That was a really fantastic meal," he actually asked me how many more times was I going to say that? LOL. But I couldn't stop thinking about how much I enjoyed my dinner.

It was as if I could feel the nutrients entering my body. The veggies are always fresh and bright, never soggy, washed out, or over cooked.

I also had the Kale-banana Smoothie ($4.49). I was able to try a small sample at the Spring tasting event and had looked forward to coming back and having a full sized glass. With only
207 calories and 50 mg of sodium it's a nutritious drink that while more expensive than a soda, is similar in price to a large, fresh squeezed orange juice and so nutrient dense I will order it every time it's on the menu from now on. Kale is loaded with vitamins K, A, and C.

After finishing our dinners Aramando was so intrigued with the food and menu we ordered the Edamame Hummus with Veggies & Flax Crackers ($5.99).

 I've always loved it and Armando did too. We ate the whole thing.

Just walk in, place your order at the counter, grab your flatware, a napkin and water (located just around the front counter to your right), and a server will bring your food to you using these table top GPS locators!

In closing I wanted to share with you that LYFE Kitchen recently had an incredible write up in WIRED magazine. You can pick up a hard copy of the magazine or read the story online. The opening paragraphs sum up a lot of what I love most about this restaurant:

"At Lyfe Kitchen (the name is an acronym for Love Your Food Everyday), all the cookies shall be dairy-free, all the beef from grass-fed, humanely raised cows. At Lyfe Kitchen there shall be no butter, no cream, no white sugar, no white flour, no high-fructose corn syrup, no GMOs, no trans fats, no additives, and no need for alarm: There will still be plenty of burgers, not to mention manifold kegs of organic beer and carafes of biodynamic wine. None of this would seem surprising if we were talking about one or 10 or even 20 outposts nationwide. But Lyfe’s ambition is to open hundreds of restaurants around the country, in the span of just five years.

Yes, for the moment the only Lyfe Kitchen is here on Hamilton Avenue in Palo Alto. It opened less than a year ago as a sort of prototype. But imagine tens of millions of local, sustainable gourmet meals, served with the efficiency and economy that one expects from a national fast-food chain. Such a feat of feeding has never before been attempted, and if Lyfe Kitchen succeeds, the results will reverberate far beyond our stomachs."

Recently, LYFE Kitchen announced the location of their second restaurant: Culver City, CA. So Southern California will be the lucky recipient of their very own LYFE Kitchen restaurant. Congrats to them!

Here's how to get there:

LYFE Kitchen Restaurant - website
167 N. Hamilton, Palo Alto, CA

View Larger Map

Friday, July 27, 2012

Baby Hummingbird Day 28: Scratching and Stretching

It's been four days since my last baby hummingbird update. Yesterday I went out in the backyard and parked myself for a bit hoping to see one of the babies return to the yard to feed on the flowering plants. Instead, I saw mama hummingbird return to feed one of her fledgling babies again.

It was tucked up high in our water gum tree. It was constantly doing the same things over and over again as I watched:

Scratching Baby Hummingbird

1. Itching and scratching. . .

Stretching Fledgling Hummingbird

2. Stretching out its tail and wings. . .

Hummingbird Chick Tongue

3. Sticking its tongue out. . .

Ruby Throated Hummingbird Chick

4. But most of all, waiting for mama to return for another feeding.

Photographing has become more challenging for two reasons. The first is the higher up in the tree the baby is the harder it is to get details. The second, and bigger problem, is with so many branches and leaves in front of it I have to use manual focus or the camera wants to focus on everything that is closer to me than the bird. But even that is easier than it used to be. The moment I begin turning the ring on my lens to focus, the camera switches to an extreme close up view that magnifies a tiny portion of the subject matter allowing me to get the sharpest possible focus. It's a very nifty feature. It does make me a little motion sick sometimes. When that happens I'm forced to suffer for my craft :)

Yellow Finch

I also saw this yellow finch. I'm guessing it may be a female goldfinch because I have seen males in the neighborhood from time to time. Whatever it was it was a nice surprise :)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Monterey Sunrise, Del Monte Blvd and Old Fisherman's Wharf

Day two of my stay in Monterey brought plenty of surprises! The day before I'd gone on a site tour and stayed as an invited guest of the Clement Hotel, went sight seeing, tide pooling, photographed the sunset over the ocean and had a delicious dinner at Bistro Moulin.

The next morning I woke up at 4:45 AM to get an early start shooting the sunrise. The lights were glowing below on the Clement Hotel's Pacific Courtyard but not a soul was in sight.

As I walked down Cannery Row only the sea gulls sitting atop the garbage bins were there to greet me.

Monterey-Before Sunrise

As I drove along the coast following the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail I noticed some movement to my left so I pulled over. Two raccoons were running down the side of the street! You can make out one leaping into the street near the "P" in stop and the other about to run out of the frame on the right side.

Great White Heron, Monterey Bay

I chose a spot in Berwick Park between Lover's Point and the American Tin Cannery Outlets and pulled over. The cloud cover was hanging so low I realized I probably wouldn't be able to see the sunrise. Hm. What to do? That's when, in the early morning light, I noticed a Great White Heron (aka Giant White Egret or Giant White Heron) hunting along the shoreline and in the tide pools below me. I'd photographed one before on a trip to the Colusa Wildlife Refuge up near Sacramento.

Snowy Egrets, Great White Heron

After just a few minutes it was joined by two Snowy Egrets. You can tell the difference because they are much shorter and they have bright yellow feet. They stayed for less than a minute and then they were gone.

Hunting Giant White Heron

Which was fine because our Great White Heron didn't have time for socializing. It was there to hunt.

Because of the distance and low light I wasn't able to take pictures of the quality I usually strive for. Instead, even using my 100-300 mm zoom lens, I had to settle for slightly grainy photos because I had to set my ISO quite high to get any pictures at all.

Giant White Egret, Gunnel Fish

As soon as it caught, this writhing, red, gunnel fish (they're shaped like eels) the heron quickly moved away from the water line and onto some seaweed covered rocks. There it pinched the fish between it's beak and waited for it to stop struggling which took a surprisingly long time. Several minutes in fact.

Monterey Bay Sunrise

By now the sun was rising but some low rays of light and a single fishing boat and lots of kelp were all I saw beneath the cloud cover.

White Heron, Gunnel Fish

Soon after the heron moved closer towards the shore. When it caught a second gunnel fish I was able to get a slightly better picture.

Giant White Heron, Gunnel Fish

In the upper part of its beak is a piece of seaweed. The gunnel fish is closer to the tip of its beak. But this one got away. After holding it for several minutes it slipped out of the bird's beak and immediately buried itself in the seaweed. The bird searched for it but finally gave up when it was clear the gunnel had made its escape.

Flying Great White Heron

After spending almost 90 minutes in one location the heron decided to move on. In total I saw it make 6 attempts at prey. It was successful with three strikes. I thought 50% must be pretty good odds.

Sleeping Sea Gull

It was still quite early. Even this sea gull was sleeping on a nearby rock.

Clement Hotel Cannery Row

Back on Cannery Row the street was coming to life. The occasional car would pass by and a tour bus had pulled up in front of the Clement, the hotel I was staying at.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

At the other end of the block from the Clement Hotel is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you've never been there I highly recommend a visit. It's an education and conservation gem. Over the years I've been there three times but haven't been back for probably a decade.

If you go, you will see the most exquisite sea life and displays. The Kelp Forest is one of my favorites. Right now there's also a jellyfish exhibit and a seahorse exhibit, both of which I'd love to see. There's also a sea otter exhibit that's always a crowd pleaser and the Open Sea exhibit is literally jaw dropping.

Another notable thing I love about the Monterey Bay Aquarium is their Seafood Watch list. You can print a wallet card or download their mobile apps so that you'll always know which fish are the most sustainable and environmentally sound choices when it comes to dining.

So, I had a decision to make: Visit the aquarium that day or go look for sea life out in the wild...

Bat Starfish, Pigeon Guillemot, Crab

For instance, right behind the Clement Hotel you can look over the edge of their deck and see all kinds of life. After feeling a bit disappointed to not see any starfish yesterday at the Sunset Drive tide pools I was really happy to spot one bright orange bat starfish in the water below. Beneath a nearby pier Pigeon Guillemot were resting on the concrete pilings and there were small crabs scuttling about on the rocks. There were also Canadian Geese and Brown Pelican swimming and flying out behind the hotel.

Giant Green Anemone
A Giant Green Anemone in, and an exposed colony of anemone out, of the water.

I also spotted Sea Anemones both in (top) and out (bottom) of the water. They are so pretty. Whenever I see them I can't help but think they are the sunflowers of the sea. But they aren't flowers. They're animals that, with their stinging tentacles to help them catch prey, eat small crabs, fish, sea urchins and any other small prey that happen their way.

I went back to my room, cleaned up, packed and checked out by 9:00 AM. I'd decided to stick around and see parts of Monterey I'd never seen before. Every time I've ever visited, coming off the freeway, I've driven down Del Monte Boulevard and passed three places I've been curious to stop at but never have.

Sculpture Shop Del Monte Blvd, Monterey
The Crystal Rose Collection at 1299 Del Monte Ave. Monterey, Ca

The first is a storefront whose front is a gated lot filled with wood, colorful metal and ceramic sculptures. Each time I'd think to myself "I want to stop there someday." Well that day finally came and I visited the Crystal Rose Collection. Along the street you'll see a sign that says Burlwood Industries who I believe was the previous tenant. If you're looking for a sculptural piece for your yard or home this is a great place to stop. Most of the pieces are handmade and imported from Mexico.

The owner told me one customer had purchased one of the metal tree pieces, cut away part of his gate, and mounted it in the gate to create a sculptural window into his backyard. What a clever idea!

Lake El Estero, Monterey
Lake El Estero

Across the street was my second stop that morning: El Estero Park. From Del Monte Blvd you can see a small lake to your left as you drive towards Cannery Row. Often dozens of Canadian Geese are grazing on the lawn and paddle boats are on the water.

El Estero Paddle Boats
El Eestero Paddle Boats (831) 375-1484

I pulled in and learned that the park not only has paddle boats you can rent by the hour at El Estero Boating, it also has many other activities including:
  • The Dennis the Menace Children's Playground
  • A Dog Park
  • A Skate Park (For both inline skates and skate boards)
  • Fishing
  • BBQ Pits for up to 200 people
  • An Outdoor Exercise Course
  • A Baseball Diamond
Paddle boats can be rented by the hour of half hour. The boats can hold up to four people (provided at least one is a child) or three adults. Life jackets are provided and the boat house also holds a snack stand. The paddle boats are available year round, weather permitting. Hubby and I are going to go out in one the next time we visit :)

Old Fisherman's Wharf Monterey

My final stop was Monterey's Old Fisherman's Wharf. Established in 1845, it took me until 2012 to get here for a visit.

Restaurants Old Fisherman's Wharf

While there were several gift shops along the wharf the first thing I noticed was the food vendors. Not because I was hungry, but because they were everywhere and most give out free samples of clam chowder and display some of their best menu items out front to lure you in. If you tried every sample from end to end you would probably be too full to actually sit down for a bowl at any of the restaurants. LOL

Whale Watching Tour Companies

This is also where many of the whale watching boats leave from. Standing in one location I could see three different companies and was able to see the Monterey Whale Watching's stand and boat, the Greatland, with many passengers lining up for the next tour.

Kayaking, Sailing, Stand Up Paddle Boards, Boat

There are many activities available. I saw people getting ready to go kayaking, there's a sailboat company, people were stand up paddle boarding and there's even a glass bottom boat.

California Sea Lions

While at first you can't see them, you can definitely hear the raucous barking of the resident California Sea Lions. There's a small dock that sits on the furthest tip of the pier facing the harbor. There I saw sea lions resting on the dock and cavorting in the water.

Diving Sea Lion

Love that I was able to get this shot of a sea lion diving into Monterey Bay!

Stellar Sea Lion
Hello Gigantor! 

Who was this? As soon as I saw this huge sea lion I was pretty sure it was one I'd read about in the news earlier this year.

According to the Marine Mammal Center California Sea Lion males usually measure up to seven feet long and can weigh up to 850 lbs. The females can reach up to six feet long and can weigh up to 220 lbs. But this big boy was clearly much larger than any of the other sea lions on the dock. That's because he was (most likely) a threatened Stellar Sea Lion which can grow up to 11 feet long and weigh up to 2500 lbs!

One was spotted in the local area back in March at Moss Landing, which is why I'd read about it in the news.

Sea Lions Fisherman's Wharf

He was simply huge. The California Sea Lions were dwarfed by his height. According to the article linked above, of the 40,000 Stellar Sea Lions left only around 500 live along California's coast. A small breeding population does live at the nearby  Año Nuevo Reserve but most live in Alaska. When they make an appearance in local Bay Area harbors they always cause quite a stir. They are considered threatened because their population has dropped by 80% in the past 30 years. Because of this they are protected by both the Marine Mammal Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Juvenile Brown Pelican

While photographing the sea lions I spotted a juvenile Brown Pelican. He was preening and resting despite all of the noise coming from the sea lions and sea gulls. As beautiful as the Bay can be, serene isn't a word I'd ever use to describe it as it is a literal cacophony of sounds.

Adult Brown Pelican

For just a minute, an adult Brown Pelican landed nearby. The most distinctive difference between the two is the adult's white head.

Starfish Fisherman's Wharf

So here's the thing, if you go out looking for sea life you have to look everywhere! Especially down in the water there is always something to see. This starfish was massive My guess is that it measured at least 18" in diameter. It was beneath the pier and I noticed it while shooting the sea lions.

Monterey Harbor

I was ready to head out but decided to walk past the harbor on my way back to the car. In the pictures above you can see the wharf and just to the right of it is the harbor with many boats. In that small strip of water along the walkway and just beneath the guardrail I saw this:

Sea Nettle Jellyfish

A Sea Nettle Jellyfish! I actually saw two of them but this was the first one. I was thrilled to be able to photograph a jellyfish in the wild!

Opaleye Perch, Crabs

I also spotted two Opaleye Perch which were really hard to photograph without a polarizing lens but if you look carefully you can just make out their forms and the white spots on their backs. There were also small crabs both out of and in the water all along the entire walkway.

Moon Jellyfish

And then I spotted a second jellyfish! This was a Moon Jelly. It didn't have any discernible long tentacles but I could see some short nubby ones along its underside. It's bell (aka hood)  was particularly neat because it was very transparent. It was so white and bright it looked as if it was glowing in the water.

I even made a video of them for you that includes a third jellyfish I spotted later that day at Moss Landing.

Sculpin Fish

Not nearly as easy to spot I did notice a very small fish, probably no more than four inches long darting between the rocks. In the top picture it's very hard to pick out so I made a close p for you. I believe this was a Sculpin. I'd seen even smaller ones, most less than an inch long, in the tide pools off Pacific Grove the day before but wasn't able to get a clear picture of any of them.

The picture below shows that small channel of water between the dock and the walkway where I spotted all of this wildlife. So my tip would be to look, really carefully, and be patient. Just like in the morning. Had I moved on too quickly I would have missed the Great White Heron the same way I could have missed the jellyfish or sculpin. I watched as many people came down the walkway most so into their conversations and getting to the wharf they never even glanced down at the water beside. them. They missed quite a show :)

Monterey Harbor, Boats

To visit any or all of the places I stopped at that day here's what you need to know:

The Clement Hotel - website
750 Cannery Row
Monterey, CA

Berwick Park - map
Ocean View Blvd x 9th Street
Monterey, CA

The Crystal Rose Collection - website
1299 Del Monte Ave.
Monterey, Ca.

El Estero Park - website - map
777 Pearl Street
Monterey, California

Old Fisherman's Wharf -  website - map
#1 Old Fishermans Wharf
Monterey, CA 93940

Past posts about Monterey Include:

Where to Stay and Play in Monterey

Cutest Dog Ever Sea Otter Halloween Costume!

Sea Kayak Wedding Photos in Monterey Bay