Sunday, June 29, 2008

Eating Brown

Red, orange and yellow,
Forgo that fine fellow.
Black, green and brown,
Go ahead and toss him down.

-Chef David George Gordon

The plan came to me as I was out walking on Friday evening. A bit of research on the internet confirmed it would work. The execution was almost flawless, the results were spectacular.

The mistake (and it was a biggie) was telling Misseswether what I had done.

Apparently frying up a batch of June bugs for breakfast is not considered acceptable behavior in the Wether household.

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June bugs, the other breakfast of champions.

It didn't matter that Miniwether and Mambowether loved them and begged for more even though I used a bit too much cooking oil. Note to self: next time try the popcorn popper. Note to self #2: don't get caught.

In light of the popularity of my edible wild plants and edible landscaping posts, it seemed like entomophagy was the next logical step. Many cultures practice entomophagy, which is what a scientist (me) calls eating bugs. I must admit saying "I practiced my entomophagy this weekend." does sound a bit better than "Me and the girls ate bugs this weekend.".

So what bugs are edible? In general, insects from the following list can be considered sources of food. However, some indivivdual species of these classes may be toxic, so do a bit of research before nibbling.

Anoplura - lice
Orthoptera - grasshoppers, crickets and cockroaches (Southern Lubber grasshoppers are NOT edible)
Hemiptera - true bugs
Homoptera - cicadas and treehoppers
Hymenoptera - bees, ants and wasps (fire ants are NOT edible)
Diptera - flies and mosquitoes (not recommended do to possible disease transmission)
Coleoptera - beetles
Lepidoptera - butterflies and moths
Megaloptera - alderflies and dobsonflies
Odonata - dragonflies and damselflies
Ephemetoptera - mayflies
Trichoptera - caddisflies
Plecoptera - stoneflies
Neuroptera - lacewings and antlions
Isoptera - termites

June bugs are a good starter meal for those interested in trying insects. They are easily recognized, don't bite or sting and have no similar-looking poisonous mimics. They can be found in great numbers and can easily be caught by shining a flashlight on a white sheet at night. The June bugs will swarm to the light spot on the sheet where you can grab them. Native Americans simply tossed them onto hot coals and when they "popped" they were done. Pulling off the wings and legs leaves you with a walnuty-sweet golden lump of protein and fat. I don't recommend sauteeing them in oil like I did. It left them too oily tasting for my liking, though the girls loved them.

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A few minutes gathering.

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Cooked, de-winged/legged and ready to eat.

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The non-edible parts.

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Breakfast is served. Note the cool "Bug Watch(er)" on Miniwether's wrist.

Removing the wings and legs was a bit tricky for my big fingers but Miniwether had no problem. Long fingernails would be helpful, but it really didn't take much effort. The wings and legs popped out away from the body.

And now for 'What has Merriwether learned?"
1. June bugs and many other common insects are edible.
2. A two year old and a five year old will DEMAND to eat anything they see their dad eat.
3. June bugs are better roasted rather than sauteed.
4. It is not necessary or even advisable for a husband to tell his wife everything.

Peace be with you!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Learning the Wilds of Houston

The cool thing about Planarian worms is if you train one to do something then kill it and feed it to other planarian worms, these new worms will pick up the same trick.

For some reason Miniwether found this concept to be rather frightening. She didn't like the planarian worm video. She and Mambowether did love everything else about the Houston Arboretum. Let's face it, what's not to like about a place with all the wilds of the Piney Woods but air conditioned and comfortable on a hot June day?

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Wild woods in a wild city.

Okay, not all 115 acres are air conditioned. In fact it's pretty much limited to one room but oh my what a room! We ended up spending over three hours touching and listening and poking and watching and learning about the plants and animals that make Texas woods their home.

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Mambowether learning about wee water beasties.

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Snakes, insects and many an other creature, all just waiting to be examined by some curious kid.

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Miniwether liked the ostrich egg most of all.

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Mambowether liked the pink plastic frog. She's always had a thing for frogs.

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We actually did get outside for a bit. There's five miles of trails through the arboretum. We saw approximately 50 yards of these trails before Miniwether took a flying crash. She seems to do that a lot. If you look closely at the picture you'll see I caught her in the middle of the fall.

I'm pretty sure posting that picture knocks me out of any Father Of The Year contest.

Tears were wiped away with peanut butter sandwiches and Diet Pepsi (uncompensated product endorsment, dang it) and we returned to the Discovery Room.

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Learning about stuff that lives in trees.

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Learning about fish, turtles, crayfish, and frogs in the water.

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Learning about leaves, animal tracks, and the delicate design of butterfly wings.

I'm thinking the Arboretum trails will be a nice place to poke around come the cool weather of fall. But on a hot summer's day the Discovery Room gave us a day in the woods without all the sweat, bugspray, and dehydration. I can always tell how much fun a place was by how soundly the girls sleep on the ride home. They both were out before we got to the 610 / I-10 interchange. I don't know, maybe I'm still in the running for Father of the Year...

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I think I have Mambowether's vote.

Peace be with you.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Reprive from the Ordinary, Part 3.

Well, I got the doctor's bill from the Great San Jacinto Horsefly Incident. Including the prescription for the antibiotics it came to just under $240.00 (totally worth it!)

The vet's bill for diagnosing Oz's diabetes and preliminary treatments followed by putting him to sleep cost over $450.00

So, after all that my Father's Day gift was limited to Misseswether letting me sleep late on Sunday and then making me pancakes and two sausage patties. That evening I got to go see the new Indiana Jones movie (very good!), though I had to go by myself because babysitters are kind of pricey. Misseswether stayed home with Mini and Mambo.

Can you tell I'm not in the highest of spirits right now?

Peace be with you.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Wild Edible Plants of Houston

To learn more about wild edibles check out my Edible Wild Plants Blog

I had the great pleasure of another edible wild plant tour over at Jesse H. Jones Nature Center last weekend. We spent almost three hours munching our way through the woods of north Houston. It was nice for once being the eater rather than the eaten out in the borderlands.

I took plenty of notes and pictures for y'all. Note: a lot of the pictures aren't very good. It's HARD to take pictures of plants so that others can safely ID them later on. View this post as a list of edible plants you can easily find in the wilds of Texas. Most books on the subject have hundreds of plants and it's easy to get overwhelmed. In comparasion, I suspect many of you will find this list to be underwhelming. I have included links to better pictures and more information for each plant, so hopefully you'll get a better idea of what to look for.

So, here's the menu for a summer day in the piney woods of Texas:

Greenbriar
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The tour started first with some steamed greenbriar in Hollandaise suace and tea made from horsemint flowers/leaves (bergamon), yaupon holly leaves, and linden flowers (basswood flowers).
After devouring the greenbriar it was off into the woods.

Day flower / Spiderwort
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Spiderwort is found in shadey, moist areas. The leaves and flowers can be eaten in salads and the steam can be cooked like asparagus.

Flowering Pear / Asian Pear
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Asian pears were originally brought over from Asia as ornamental trees and as disease-resistent rootstock for other pears. The fruit are small, only about the size of grapes, but they can be eaten. They have a pear flavor which isn't suprising. Sadly, there's not a lot of information available about these trees on the web.

Clover
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The white flowers make a good tea.

Nutsedge
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The root tubers and seeds (nuts) of nutsedge are edible, both either roasted or eaten raw. Nutsedge stalks are triangular in shape as opposed the the round stems of the poisonous Tuberous Vervain (verbane)

Poisonous verbane
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Don't eat this.

Turk's Cap
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Turk's Caps are in the hibiscus family. Flowers, fruit, and seeds are edible. The flowers can also be made into a drink similar to pink lemonade.

Redbud tree
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Redbud seedpods are edible when young (May-April here in Houston) though you need to sautee them. The early spring flowers are also edible.

Sumac
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The red berries of sumac can be made into another pink lemonade drink. The berries pictured are too far past their prime though. Sidenote: white sumac berries are poisonous.

Shepard's Purse / Poor Man's Pepper
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This plant likes sunny, dry areas. In the spring it's young shoots are greens best served cooked. The roots can be eaten but they aren't very good. Cooking helps with that, but not much. The seeds have a strong pepper taste and are easily collected in the summer.

Sweetgum Trees
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The sap of sweetgum trees can be boiled down into a sweet gum (hench the name) but it's best use is as a soothing ointment for fire ant bites and as an antibiotic. Chew a few of the leaves into a paste then smear it on the bite or wound.

Indian Strawberry
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These are tiny, tastless strawberries that grow in great numbers in well drained, partially sunny areas. They are high in nutrients.

American Basswood (aka Linden)
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The young leaves of this tree make an excellent salad, the flower bud can be munched raw while the flowers can either be eaten raw or made into a great tea. The inner bark has been used in cordage-making for centuries and can also be eaten! This is probably one of your most useful wild plants in East/Gulf Texas areas so learn how to identify it.

American Elm.
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A similar looking but much less desirable tree is the American Elm. The flowers are edible and if you want to put the work into it you can make cordage from the inner bark fibers, but it isn't a s easy as making cordage from basswood. The American Elm is also often mistaken for yummy beech trees.

Toothache Tree/Devil's Walkingstick/Hercules' Club
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Oral-numbing leaves of the toothache tree (light green/yellow leaves directly right of the notepad).

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Spikey/thorny trunk of toothache tree.

The leaves of the toothache tree releases a powerful numbing agent when chewed and can be used to dull pain in the mouth and throat. Of course, these leaves taste horrible, luckily you only need to chew a small peice then spit it out. The spines on the trunk and branchs of this tree are conical and end in very sharp spikes, unlike the pseudo-spines of the Maple, which are made of overlapping scales.

Maple
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The maple can develop trunk/branch lumps that look like the spines of a toothache tree but the leaves are different. The seeds of a maple can be roasted for a tastey snack. Remember to peel them out of the "helicopter" seed pod first!

Mustang Grapes
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Edible, though unripe in this picture, fruit.

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Mustang grape leaves are fuzzy and have a white underside. The fruit can be eaten raw or made into jelly and wine.

Muscadine Grapes
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Another wild grape. Its leaves aren't as fuzzy as Mustang grapes nor do they have white undersides. The fruit is edible and can also be used to make wine and jelly. Both Mustang and Muscadine grape vines can be used as an emergency water source in the woods. Cut through a thick grape vine as high up as you can reach, followed by cutting through it again at the very bottom. To collect the water which drips out support the top end up in the air and place the bottom end below it in a container. Once the water flow stops cut two feet off the top and more water will drip out of the vine. Repeat the cutting off of the top two feet every time the water stops flowing until no vine is left.

Frost Grapes
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Frost grapes are called this as they usually don't ripen until the fall. As with the previous two grapes these can also be made into jelly and wine.

Dewberries and Blackberries
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Dewberry vine growing along the ground.

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Upright blackberry cane.

These sweet, wild berries can be invasive in their growth, but very yummy. The fruit usually ripens in the spring and is worth every thorn-stab recieved while gathering them. It's a favorite of the Wether-household.

Horsemint
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The dried or roasted flowers and leaves of this wildflower make a wonderful tea. It's flavor can be somewhat overpowering so use only a little of the plant material.

Okay, there you have it. In combination with This Post you'll have a good idea of what to eat in the wilds of Texas.

Sidenote: I forgot probably the yummiest thing in Texas wilds - feral pigs!
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Damage done by rooting pigs. Huge numbers of feral pigs are everywhere in Texas, causing huge amounts of damage. Luckily they can be hunted year-round.

Peace be with you.

To learn more about wild edibles check out my Edible Wild Plants Blog

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Thank you all!

Thank you all for your sympathy, support, and stories. Along with the comments I received numerous e-mails and even phone calls! Y'all are wonderful!

I miss Oz, but now hundreds of people know about him. That makes him just about immortal, which is the best I can do for him.

Peace be with you.

Coming next: Edible Plants of Houston
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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Pretty One: 1994-2008

I'm covered in sweat and grave-dirt. My hands are blistered and my face hurts from crying.

And my best friend in the world is gone.

Oz, my cat, was put down this evening by the vet while I held him in my arms.

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The last picture of him, ever.

The rest of this post will probably be boring to y'all but I really don't give a fig.

According to the vet's records, he was born in 1994 and then bounced around from family to family until we got him in 1999. Missewether and I had just moved into our house. It was big and empty except for two computers and a futon (which I hated). The next thing we got was Oz. He was very shy and it took him three days to get up enough nerve to come out of the bathroom in which he had been hiding. Misseswether had spent hours and hours trying to coax him out and just when he finally took his first tentative step out, I accidently set off the house alarm. Ear-peircing "WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP's" filled the air...

It took another two days to get him back out of the bathroom.

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Oz's first picture, just before disappearing behind the toilet for another two days.

Eventually we needed to add furniture to our house and being fairly practical people, we got furniture which matched Oz's coat.
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His chair.

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His couch.

Oz wasn't like most cats. You definately knew there was something going on inside his brain. He didn't have that empty stare like so many cats do. No, his stare was more of the "Love me or become food" sort of stare. Even though his stare made a lot of people nervous they all comment on how pretty he was. He quickly developed the nickname, "The Pretty One".

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The Pretty One.

He didn't "meow". His lips would move, but only the faintest sound would come out, softer than even the voice of a newborn kitten. That's how he got his name. We were huge "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fans back then and Oz the cat seemed very much like Oz the character, just kind of mellow and smart, but not with a lot to say. His purr could be deafening though.

After having Oz for a year we discovered why he had been bounced from home to home. He started "marking his territory". We were about to give him up when a coworker sugessted we have his testosterone level check. He had been fixed way back in 1994, but blood work revealed his testosterone level was over 800. A normal, fixed male cat should have a testosterone level around 20. Exploratory surgery discovered a second set of testes! Apparently though rare, this was unheard of in cats. "Fixing" him a second time took care of the spraying and a happy household was formed.

I'm not sure what was Oz's greatest contributuion to the family was. It could have been his beauty. It may have been his love. Most likely though it was probably Miniwether and Mambowether. Way back when Misseswether and I first talked about adoption I wasn't sure if it was how I wanted to build our family. I was really concerned that I wouldn't be able to love a child who didn't come from us. I was sitting at my desk praying for God's guidence and Oz curled up into my lap. I started stroking him and then whispered, "I love ya', buddy". It hit me like the punch to the stomach. I'd been telling Oz I loved him for years and I did love him. He wasn't even the same species as me but I'd do anything for him. I called out to Misseswether and told her I was good with adopting. The rest is history.

But, I wouldn't do anything for oz. About two months ago he started spraying again. He had developed diabeties and his body was trying to purge himself of excess sugar. The first month's treatment to find the right insulin dose was more than we could afford. The fact that he'd need two shoots of insulin a day would be impossible for us to do. I travel too much and Miisseswether just couldn't do it.

I couldn't give him up to an animal shelter where he'd no longer be loved, but we couldn't keep him either...

He was old and couldn't get upstairs any more to sleep with us. There was a sore on his neck that wouldn't heal...

It was time.

I made the appointment last week and spent the time between then and now spoiling Oz rotten. Love, petting, and tuna as much as he wanted...

Today came fast. Too fast.

He fought the effect of the drugs. He wouldn't fall asleep. He wouldn't close his eyes.

But in the end he still died.

I dug his grave under a tree in the backyard. Summer heat had turned the Texas clay into rock. It took me hours of work with my pick to bust out a hole big enough for him.

I laid him down, covered in my tears, and filled in the hole.

My little buddy is gone.

It sucks.

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Peace be with you.