Ranger Kathryn's Arches

October 1, 2012

Pine nuts: local food, slow food

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:27 pm
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Pine nut shells, whole seeds, and the end result. A labor of love.

My desire to eat locally-grown foods and to support family enterprises led me to pull over at the roadside card table selling pine nuts. A young girl stood guard over her supply of pre-measured zip-loks: “Eight dollars, or three for twenty,” she intoned hopefully. The bags looked pitifully small. I said I wanted to know everything about how they collected them.

Her mother explained the process of gathering the green cones (in all their sticky sappy splendor) off the pinyon trees in early August, drying them, and whacking the nuts out. Instantly I recalled that early August was when I began seeing rodent-chewed green pine cones on the ground, far before I expected the seeds to be edible. Chipmunks know these things.


I promptly bought a bag for the sheer joy of it all.

At home, spreading the treasure on the kitchen table, we strategized. Cracking the shells without damaging the seed inside was our goal; I resorted to a garlic press and a one-at-a-time approach while Chris tried a rolling pin over the whole lot. One small nut at a time, fingernails pressed into cracks and gingerly separated the shells. Conversation flowed quietly, gently, with frequent pauses to assess our progress. It was slow, slow, slow.

Our fingertips were awfully tender after an hour of prying, with not even a half cup of product. The ancestral people, whose diet included this 3000-calorie-per-pound staple, must have had a whole lot of time on their hands and few distractions. We elected to move on to the final step of roasting in a skillet on the stove until they released their nutty aroma. A sprinkle of water and salt in the pan finished the evening’s work. The result: tasty, simple, healthful, and deeply satisfying.

Taking the time to prepare slow foods causes me to savor the result so much more, knowing how labor-intensive the process is. Whether it’s a multi-step lasagna, a long-simmering soup, or doing something yummy with the insides of your Halloween jack-o-lantern, I encourage you to try slowing down your food preparation — just for the heck of it. The mindful process is a joy in itself.

Leave a comment: What story do you have about trying to prepare a new, complicated, or unusual menu item?


July 18, 2012

Feeding the wildlife?!? Really?!?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:42 pm
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This BRONZE raven pair is getting “fed” a macadamia nut — a spoof by Ranger Kathryn.

There are some things that really irk park rangers — typically encompassing behaviors that everyone knows are inappropriate, yet which continue to happen. Graffiti comes to mind as an intentional destructive act that disrupts natural beauty and creates extra work for the rangers who must remove it. Its perpetrators do not stop to think of the lasting damage as they carve their initials (or, for lunacy bonus points, their full name) into a tree trunk or rock face. Graffiti bothers me on a visceral level because it so rudely invades my wilderness experience.

Today, however, we’re going for something more subtle — more excusable, according to its practitioners. It involves human food given to vertebrate recipients. Guilt-assuaging deceptive thoughts like “It won’t hurt a thing,” “I hate wasting food,” “Just this once,” “He looks hungry,” “It’s only a photo op,” or “It’s the kind of food he’d eat in nature” pave the way down this slippery slope.

I doubt I’ll talk any readers out of feeding wildlife. It seems that many people feel entitled to give a squirrel a nut, or toss a french fry to a seagull. PLEASE DON’T. Here’s why:

1. It’s illegal in many places (and all national parks/monuments) to feed wildlife.

2. Wild animals have specialized diets and can die from the wrong foods.

3. Feeding causes wildlife to lose their natural fear of humans. (Rangers at the Grand Canyon say the constantly-fed squirrels are their most dangerous wildlife.)

4. Providing an artificial food source can cause adults to produce large families which the natural food supply can’t support.

5. You always risk injury when you do not keep a respectful distance from animals who may misinterpret your actions.

6. Feeding changes behavior patterns. (Opportunists become lazy.)

I’ve an idea what you can do instead: create natural habitat that invites animals to live closer to you. Plant trees or shrubs for cover. Set out a birdbath. Add butterfly- or hummingbird-attracting flowers to your garden. And keep a pair of binoculars near the window; wildlife is best observed on their own terms.


[Note: outside the Arches NP visitor center you can photograph yourself with lifelike bronze bighorn sheep ram/ewe/lamb, bronze ravens, and bronze lizards. Fun for the entire family!]


Thanks to ‘Wildlife Care of Ventura County’ for some of the ideas listed above.

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