Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kung pao tacos

I've heard of kimchi tacos and spaghetti tacos, so why not kung pao tacos? But no, I'm really talking about two different meals I had recently.

At East Asia Garden the other day, the Sergeant and I enjoyed some pork and cabbage jiaozi (boiled dumplings), kung pao chicken and sesame balls. We are big fans of the sesame balls.
East Asia Garden's owners are from Northeast China, so it is fun to practice my rusty Mandarin with them (my first year in China was spent in the northeast's Jilin Province, so the accent is easier for me to understand). Their food is good and reasonably priced. The service is friendly. Not always speedy but we don't like to eat in a hurry. I like the way they mold the rice, too. It's original.

If you want to try some Chinese dishes from a less-known region, stop in East Asia Garden or order takeout sometime.

East Asia Garden
1156 South Broadway
Denver, CO 80210-1502
(303) 722-9968

On Saturday night, we headed up to Westminster with friends to try a Mexican place mentioned in Denver on a Spit.
Toluca is short on atmosphere but long on friendly service and yes, awesome tacos al pastor. I had straight-up tacos (with extra pineapple) while the Sergeant had the combo plate with beans and rice, which he said were quite tasty. The margaritas were passable, and we all enjoyed the sopapillas.

If you're up on the north side of town, go get you some tacos there!

Toluca Mexican Restaurant
9165 Lowell Boulevard
Westminster, CO

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Prayer service

I confess I let the vegetable garden get away from me. Not hard to do when you take vacation in August. I went out in my pajamas the other day to grab some tomatoes, and three hours later I was still weeding and trying to restore order. Still in my pajamas.

At one point I pulled a bunch of weeds and found a green bean in my hand. At least that was my initial thought, until it pinched me and I went "ack!" and flung it down.

She seemed none the worse for that, happily.

The freakiest thing about praying mantises is the human-like articulation of their heads. They turn their heads and look at you, and you just know they're wishing they were a little bit bigger or you a little bit smaller.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Going to seed

One great thing about having a thriving garden is that it creates the seeds of its own expansion, or the expansion of others' gardens. I collected these columbine seeds for Pamela J. (send me your address, Pam!), while a bucket of white irises went to Amy and another batch was eagerly snapped up by officemates.

I've collected seeds from bachelor buttons, arugula and onions. The Sergeant is an ardent collector of poppy and marigold seeds. My friend Ana took some fennel volunteers. A co-worker got lamb's ears, another, chives.

I'll have to find out what seeds Deb would like to have, as all my tomatoes and some other garden goodies came from her.

The only sad part of all this going to seed? Knowing that fall is just around the corner.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Nice salad

I love salade Niçoise, but it's hard to find a good one, at least in my recent experience. I've had salads where all the vegetables were completely raw (including the potatoes!) and ones where the "seared tuna" came out well-done.

I made my own Niçoise last week for the stitch 'n' bitch girls. It's not that hard, but yes, there many elements, so it takes time. Cook the beans, cook the potatoes, cook the eggs, peel and cut the eggs and potatoes, make the vinaigrette, wash the lettuce, add the tomatoes, the capers and the olives. And that's before we even get to the tuna.

The vinaigrette is worth making for any salad. It's from Epicurious. For the tuna, I followed Jaden's recipe, smearing the tuna with wasabi and sesame seeds. Manisha pitched in on prep and Jen helped me with the searing, since I didn't want to ruin the pricey tuna I'd gotten from Whole Foods. (You can use canned tuna, too, but I decided to splurge.)

It came out quite tasty, and looked pretty to boot.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Giant ichneumon wasp
(Megarhyssa macrurus)

I was digging up the irises around the birch stump today. We're going to have it ground down so we can plant another tree there. A long insect came zooming by and landed on the stump. I thought it was a dragonfly until I saw its tail.
My goodness! Is that a stinger? I grabbed my camera to take some photos. When the creature start to lift and flare its abdomen, I backed off, thinking that was some kind of threat display.

Then I went inside to look up what it was. What she was – a female Megarhyssa macrurus, or giant ichneumon wasp. What I thought was a stinger is really a 6-inch-long ovipositor. She was looking for holes bored by her rival, a pigeon horntail wasp.
When she finds one, she lifts her abdomen high in the air and draws that long ovipositor forward until she can push it straight down into the hole, guiding it with her hind legs. In the hole is the larva of her rival, which she stings and paralyzes. Then she lays an egg, which will hatch and eat the paralyzed larva, then pupate and become an adult wasp the next spring.
Ew, right? But very interesting. It's so specifically evolved. (If you're not too squicked out, click to see the photos larger; they're pretty cool.)

It's funny, the Sergeant and I were discussing the theory of intelligent design and its flaws just last night. Turns out Darwin had something to say about that, involving the ichneumonidae's gruesome habits:
I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.
Thanks to the fine contributors to Wikipedia for expanding my insect horizons. And thanks to Ms. Wasp for stopping by. I'm sorry that your efforts will be in vain.

Saturday, August 06, 2011


The first cherry tomatoes are starting to ripen. There are lots of big green tomatoes, too. I should fry some up this week.

It's funny how the garden goes from "not much" to "everything all at once."

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Talon show

I love raptors. We have hawks in the neighborhood, either Cooper's or sharp-shinned (which differ mainly in size, so it's hard to tell) and peregrine falcons, plus owls. I've seen other hawks, kestrels and possibly an eagle at the dog park.

So of course I was pleased to get a gander at these birds from Nature's Educators at the Denver County Fair.
This Harris's hawk named Zeus was given to the center by a falconer. Since he was raised by humans, he wouldn't know how to live in the wild. He was very interested in all the activity around him but was also remarkably relaxed.

The great horned owl, Athena, though, seemed pretty stressed out, panting heavily and getting all flappy.
Her handler said all the hustle and bustle of the fair was a little much for an animal that can hear the blood moving through your veins. See how her ears are turned down? She's trying to cut out some of the noise.

Athena is missing a wingtip and a talon, possibly after being electrocuted. She was found under a power line in Nebraska.

I had to share with her handler something I'd seen recently: Eagle Love Story: Injured Mates Reunited At Rehab Center. You should read it, too.