Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Kelp Forest Lusciousness

Escaped for another solo snorkel recently and was greeted by this at the Cove (yeah, that's a sea lion front and center on the beach):

The clarity, for most of the dive, was unusually good, so I swam over to the sea caves ~ the main one is known as The Clam. This is an over/under shot of the approach to The Clam, showing some of the lovely kelp remnants.

Here are some tourists getting about as close as they can to the sea lions, who are sunbathing below.

This is where my video adventure begins, with some up-close-and-personal time with a couple of lions.

Hello Mr. Sea Lion!

They have little claws on their flippers for exactly this purpose: scratching an itch.


This female came quite close to me, but she didn't blow any bubbles or seem threatened in any way. I do favor solo diving for this very reason; you are much less of a threat to them as a singleton than you are as a group.

The male, however, was definitely more suspicious...

I decided to check out the inside of the Clam - it's only safe to go in when it's relatively calm, like so (get it? CALM inside the CLAM? Oh nevermind!):

Once inside I was treated with the magic of the internal views, but there were no sea lions around...

See? They were all outside on this day.

So I made my way outside again and captured an over/under of sea lions topside, and a juvenile opal eye underneath.

Thanks for looking! xo

Friday, September 26, 2014

Freediving La Jolla | Sea Lions + Leopard Sharks

The past few weeks since the kids have been back in school I've been able to sneak away a few times for a few hours each... just long enough to get in some quick freedives/snorkels, and the results have been rewarding!

Yesterday I headed for La Jolla Cove for a solo snorkel after hearing how great conditions were Wednesday... and after checking all of the tide charts and seeing that there would be a relatively low surge. When I got there, however, this is what I saw:

I decided to go in anyway, but thought about leaving my camera behind. I'm so glad I didn't, though, because of everything I captured ~ including a snorkeling video of the flotilla of sea lions that I temporarily joined.


When I started swimming back toward the Cove, however, conditions had deteriorated rapidly. You'll see that the sea lions had no problem handling the rough surge, but the few humans entering and exiting the Cove had to time their exit just right. 

These are conditions I would NOT take children around (not even on the beach), nor would I take my friends along with me. Did I mention that there is a great restaurant overlooking the Cove called Brockton Villa that serves fantastic Bloody Marys and oysters on the half shell? When you have made plans to go diving and you pull up and see this, abort mission and go have brunch instead! 

Two weeks ago I met up with some dive friends (via San Diego Hammerheads Meetup group) to do a casual group freedive at the Marine Room/La Jolla Shores, and conditions were much calmer. These ladies have logged literally hundreds more dives than I have and dive for a living, yet they still spend their free time taking advantage of a snorkel among friends. They are real-life mermaids, I think!

We were rewarded with leopard sharks...

And even a baby bat ray - check it out here:

The week prior, however, was the best leopard shark dive I've had in a long time, and honestly I credit being alone for my success. I definitely find that diving/snorkeling alone makes you appear less threatening to both leopard sharks and sea lions, while approaching them in a large group can make them uneasy so they just swim away.

Here, they swam under + around me for what felt like hours.

Thanks for looking and get out there and swim!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hunting the Dove Season Opener | Labor Day 2014

Driven by a desire to know more about where our food comes from - especially fish, meat + poultry - I explored the idea of modern-day hunting a few years ago via Georgia Pellegrini. If hunting seems too counter-culture for you, then in addition to Georgia's perspective (which I share) I highly recommend Tovar Cerulli's writings (and others) which have inspired me to try hunting our own meat on occasion. The food is fresh, it is sustainable, it gets us all outdoors where we can appreciate what a gift meat truly is, and it gives me a deeper understanding of the ingredients I'm working with in a particular dish.  

Philosophy on the topic of hunting is vast, and luckily I really enjoy a good dialogue on the matter.

Labor Day was the Dove Season Opener in Imperial Valley this year, and after scouting good spots last fall plus not one but TWO failed hunting trips last year, I was about ready to throw in the dove-hunting towel. In the meantime I scouted my old spots and found some new ones, practiced shooting, and loaded up on ammo.  

Monday morning we awoke at 4am to get out to Imperial County by sun-up. Imperial is known for being one of the best spots in the land to shoot dove, especially the Eurasian dove: a much larger species which is so prolific it is now "Eurasian season" year-round there with no bag limits.

After setting up at our spot and getting the kids comfortable, we were delighted to find that all that time spent at the range lately shooting skeet really paid off. Here's a snippet of what the hunting looks like though when the sun is up and you're casing the skies for the dove to come in close enough for a good shot. We don't have a bird dog, but as you can see our kids happily serve as bird dogs whenever they like. Did I mention that it topped out at 106 degrees on this day? 

We hoped for about eight doves for dinner for the family - apparently three doves per adult and one per child is standard. Slowly but surely they began adding up (the two biggest ones in the center are Eurasians, for reference):

Not all of the shots were perfect. There are harrowing moments while hunting. Read a fantastic article here on chef Andrew Zimmern's website Go Fork Yourself and listen to the podcast featuring new dove hunter Molly Mogren, highlighting the angst such a hunt can invoke. Of course you are taking a life every time you eat fish, meat, or poultry, but a lot of people don't view it that way because of how the killing occurs: Out of sight, out of mind. Speaking only for myself, I think I should have to face facts now and again. I'm happy to share my struggles here, but I did spare you the heaviest of our dramas simply because I was chasing birds down and even fishing one out of a canal rather than filming!

Afterward we went to county-famous Camacho's which was slammed with dove hunters on the season opener. While waiting over an hour for our food, we swapped hunting stories with nearby tables and my eldest daughter drew an imaginary picture of herself dove hunting. When asked if she had any interest in hunting in the future she said that so far, she was on the fence. But she loves shooting.

Next it was time to plan the meal we would enjoy. I have shared my still life painting obsession here and it's borne from the love of seeing a big pile food gathered up before you cook it: all that potential! This is a little of our hunting bounty:

Some of the smaller Mourning doves are best served by the breasting-out technique seen here. If you aren't breasting them out, you can pluck and field-dress them as you would any other bird... but use tiny scissors around the vent!

The result is some amazing-looking meat, as fresh as you will ever find in any farmer's market. ALL of our meat, save the one breast in the bottom left corner below with the obvious pellet hole, was free of any shooting damage. We used 7.5 shot in both our 20-gauge and 12-gauge shotguns and while it did seem on the small side, this benefit was real.

Next is a braising technique for our two whole birds and bone-in breasts as described in the LL Bean Game & Fish cookbook, found here. I bought my barely-used hardcover for $1 with Prime shipping! Amazon is crazy sometimes. 

They were finished in a madeira sauce.

And served! Kids loved it, adults loved it, and next time we figure we'll need about 12 for this family, since there were calls for "more" and I didn't have any. 

Thanks for looking + happy hunting! 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sevengill shark dive

Getting ready for some sevengill fun!

I actually did this dive a couple weeks ago - been wanting to dive with our local sevengills for years but the stars never aligned quite the right way.  Well consider the Sevengill Shark Achievement UNLOCKED because I finally saw a bunch with our friend and underwater photographer extraordinaire, Greg Amptman!

Read more about these amazing sharks here. Watch my video here:

Seen on our paddle back in.  This rubber duckie is tethered to the buoy.

And as always, I love visiting the girls... the La Jolla Cove sea lions never disappoint!

Thanks for looking :)

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Dinner Party | with Hummingbird Cake + morning-after French toast

Recently I threw a dinner party for two of our closest friends and their two children, and I thought it would be nice to make the kids' table as fancy as the adults'.  My own little nine-year-old appreciates grown up drinking glasses (she asked for a "fancy glass goblet" for Christmas this past December). But more importantly, our friends' eldest daughter is a very lady-like and sophisticated twelve-year-old girl, so I knew that she would love it!  

Sadly I have almost no pictures of the food I served because I was both entertaining and drinking copious amounts of cocktails and wine. But I can share that in addition to the easy platter of cheese/baguette/grapes, we had fresh mussels from the Poway Farmer's Market in a white wine sauce for the appetizer, followed by my classic pot roast (which I devoted a prior blog entry to... it's from Ree Drummond, and along with her mashed potatoes, it never disappoints.) Both were perfect for entertaining because in the case of the mussels they are quick and easy, while the pot roast you can make ahead to let roast while you chat.

Since the weather was balmy and my guests are known for loving champagne, I made them Elderflower Fizz cocktails. It's one of my all-time favorite cocktails when it's nice out because it's so refreshing!

Now here's the kids' table ~

We used a bench to accommodate two children on this side instead of one.  It's a pretty small table, but this worked!

For the place settings I borrowed a cute idea I saw on Pinterest ~ a wreath made of extra-long rosemary with the names taped on, and I draped that over our own tangerines from the backyard.

The original Pinterest post suggested one look at your local Farmer's Market for the long rosemary, but ours didn't have any. Luckily I literally ran across some on my morning jog... San Diego loves wild rosemary and the City often plants rosemary bushes and lets them really grow!

After dinner I served this cake, called a Hummingbird Cake, along with vanilla ice cream:

The inside looked like this (from link above ~ I also used the recipe in the link above):

Believe me when I tell you that this cake is TO DIE FOR!  The animals on top are just something fun I do with cakes now - I spray-painted plastic animals shiny metallic colors.  The animals also make the kids go crazy because I let them choose their favorite to keep. ;)

And the next day we still had a good amount of baguette left. What do you do with it? You can make a delicious bruschetta or crostino, but if you're looking to make something sweet and breakfast-y you can make French toast out of it!


After! Mmm...


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Warner Springs | Ziplines, Pond-fishing + Firearms

Warner Springs is a small inland community out in north-east San Diego County and since it's so far from major town centers there are still amazing swaths of land you can buy fairly affordably.  

Last weekend we went out to the ranch of one of our dear friends out there, and knowing she had a zip line, a fishing pond, and a shooting range we prepared for a day of fun for us and the kids.  The dogs were boxers and super friendly!


This little pond is usually leveled up so high that the rock our son is sitting on would be totally covered... but these are times of extreme drought here in Southern California.  Still, there are catfish and bluegill ripe for the catching!  The fish won this day though.

Next up while the kids were exploring the pond and grounds was shotgun clay shooting.  We decided to try my refurbished 20-gauge Charles Daly side-by-side a spin to see if it truly was fixed - since I've owned it the left barrel failed to fire because the firing pin wasn't striking the shell with enough force to ignite the gunpowder. 

I didn't hit the clay in this clip but you can see that she fired well!


We had a nice array of guns to try since my friend and her friends had many between them.

This is the cache before other friends (one of whom teaches handgun safety) arrived.  He not only brought handguns but also an AK-47 and others.  

Here I am trying out the AK-47 while my new friend on the left handles a pistol and my friend on the right fires an AR-10 (I believe):


My favorite shooting of the day, however, was teaching our little ones gun safety, and having them shoot for the first time.  My eldest completed her Hunter Safety course with me and passed, though she had yet to ever handle a firearm.  This Ruger 10/22 rifle was light enough for them and perfect for learning.

She really enjoyed this!


They also found a little walking stick in the grass:


As I mentioned, one of our new friends also happens to teach a handgun safety class as a decades-long former police officer here in San Diego, so he taught me how to fire my very first handgun... I was honored and very grateful for the one-on-one lesson.  

This is his gun I was using, apparently the most popular (Smith & Wesson 9mm) for good reason.  I really liked the feel of it.

Here you see me hit two out of two shots (the first shot you hear is my new friend, firing next to me).  I'm aiming at a tiny white square metal target you can see in the shot and you can hear it "ping" when I hit it.


If you're lucky enough to be enjoying this glorious Southern California weather I hope you're getting out in it.  Thanks for looking!