In My Backyard - Issue #10 - Garter Snake

Hi, and welcome to the tenth issue of In My Backyard. Each of these I post are inspired by actual events and findings and therefore are sometimes a bit difficult to come by. The winter months especially are difficult having little to no "animal life" cross my path, except for pets, of course. I'm never truly at a loss though, for even in the most lean months there are always some bit of nature to find.

With the warmer weather I've had an abundance of encounters in which I could use to write about but they are limited since I always try to present at least a few of my own pictures. There are a some though that I have posted and not been able to acquire my own pictures. I end up getting them from Wikipedia. It goes against my first inclinations but... sometimes I have to go with it.

I have chosen this months animal to be the Garter Snake. In the warmer months we have these buddies, maybe not aplenty, but more prevalent than some other creatures. The pictures you see, those that don't have any other attribution, are of a friendly little snake we suspect has been around our house for a few years now. It was found last year in a bag of plant soil. I was lifting it to move to another spot when I saw a slender rope-like body. It was shocking, but soon all of us were hovering around to get a closer look.

It just so happens that this one came to visit a few days ago when Mum and I were about to go shopping. On my way out to the vehicle, the neighbor's dog started barking suddenly. The poor little snake wasn't too fond of her and I managed to get her out of the way and grab the camera to snap a few shots.

I found that the Garter snake is one of the most widely distributed species of reptile ranging from the Alaskan Panhandle to Central America. Also it is the only snake found in Alaska. Which is reasonable since they are heterothermic, which means they depend upon a means of heating themselves that is outside of their body. That is why they are known for sitting on rocks to bask in the sun. I happen to know a few people that do that. (Hee hee!)

The diet of the garter snake is quite varied. Basically you can sum it up to  whatever they can overpower. We happen to know personally that they like frogs and toads, but slugs, earthworms, and rodents are among their list of foods as well.

Notice the pattern and colors. There is the typical black with yellow stripes, but in this one you can see smudges of red along with even black dots. Not many of the Garter snakes we see around here have red on them so this one is kind of special. We wondered if the red color is something they get as they grow and shed skin.

Courtesy of Wikipedia
Now here is something you may not know. In fact, I just found out about it myself. Garter snakes are supposedly nonvenomous, but they really have a mild neurotoxic venom they most likely use to tranquillize their prey. The teeth that injects this venom is found further back in the mouth and is really only best utilized through chewing, or gnawing. So if you pick one up and it bites, just don't let it chew. ;)

But really, humans won't die when injected with their venom. Thankfully. We have enough trouble with Copperheads and the occasional Cottonmouth or Rattler, we don't need deadly Garter snakes. It is fascinating though, how God gave even the "harmless" snakes a means of ensuring the capture of their prey.

And that does it. Thanks for reading. I hope you've enjoyed this issue and will return for more next month around this time.

What will I write about next?...

Culinary Chronicles - Kale Chips

Have you ever had kale? Do you know what it is? No, it's not collard greens (blech!) but a delicious, sturdy, leafy plant in the broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts family.

I was introduced to it through a salad my grandmother made. It was covered in olive oil and sunflower seeds; I loved it! But unfortunately, some of my family didn't care for how priggly it was so it wasn't used as much in our salads.

Then, a few months ago, I was reading a tweet by Bethany Hamilton about kale chips, and previously my Mum had said she found a recipe. So I was like, "Well, if that's not a sign, I don't know what is." So we put "fresh kale" on our grocery list. Since then, kale chips are fixed at least twice a week in our home. They're so delicious! When baked, they become crispy like a potato chip, only slightly more fragile, but so good. Needless to say, a fresh batch of these don't last long around here. To emphasize that, it took me 3-4 tries before I could get a good picture of them baked, it went so fast. Whoo!

The nutritional benefits alone are worthy of them becoming a part of your diet. Very high in beta carotene, and vitamin C, they also provide that important vitamin K that is sometimes more difficult to get. Plus it is rich in calcium and contains anti-cancer properties. During World War II, people were encouraged to grow and eat lots of kale because it provided important nutrients missing from their diet due to rationing. Isn't that interesting?

Also I read, at some point in Scotland's history, they considered it a staple to their diet, even going so far as to have created an idiom. When someone felt ill and didn't want to eat they'd say that person was "off his kail". Different spelling, of course, but that's to be expected.

So now that you know how good it is for you, would like to know the recipe? Here it is:

 Kale Chips recipe

  • 1-2 bunches of kale (depending on the size of the bunch and how many you're fixing this for)
  • olive oil
  • salt 
  • seasonings of your choice

First, wash the kale and lay out to dry. This is the most important step. If the kale is not mostly-to-completely dry it won't hold the oil. Lately its been warmer and the kale has been drying a lot faster, which is good when I end up washing it late and needing to bake it not long after. *wry smile*

Here I have the kale spaced apart a good deal but only because it was a small head. I end up packing them in close most of the time and they still dry. It all depends upon the temperature and humidity level.

After the kale is dry, shred into bite-sized pieces, being sure to leave out the hard, thick stems. They don't ever bake well.

Using a gallon-sized, resealable bag, load about 2-3 handfuls of kale shreds into the bag and pour the olive oil on top. How much is hard to say. Just keep in mind that you don't want it dripping in olive oil but you do want each leaf to have some evenly distributed on it. Shake the bag until you get that even distribution.

Then dump onto a parchment covered pan. Season with salt and any other desirable seasoning. Personally, my favourite is salt and smoked paprika. Too delicious!

Bake at 275 degrees for 10 minutes, stir the kale around a little, then bake for another 10 minutes. If the kale is still a bit soft, leave it in for as long as it needs, just remember to keep an eye on it.

Now you have a wonderful snack! Make sure you get some before they're all gone; you are the cook, you deserve some reward.

And that does it. One kale recipe as promised. I hope you enjoyed the post, and if you have any questions (or if you see I have left anything out) leave me a comment below and I'll get back to you promptly.

What I'm Doing and My Plans

My cutie-pie, Lizzie Beth. She was helping me take photos of my latest project.

Its sometimes difficult to find the right way to start a blog post. I've heard it said that the hardest thing for a writer is staring at that blank page. Though I can't say I always have that problem, its definitely something I can relate to. Sometimes its just a matter of getting your thoughts organized. I seem to have a time doing that lately.

At first it was blogging and my other writing that I tried to juggle, and its not like it was too much, though I may have made a harder process of it than it was. Now that I've become a writer at Crochet Spot I've been doing some adjusting: writing an original pattern once a week, understanding the HTML. Its been really good for me so far, having a deadline that's not just of my own making, and having incentive to create my own patterns. I'm really grateful for this chance. To tell you the truth, I never dreamed that I would be given the chance to do what I love for some place other than my own blog. It's also nice to have some extra money on hand, though living at home doesn't demand a lot of expenses. Plugging away at my writing is slow going and only now has my experiences offered a small financial benefit. I anticipate the day I can get my own stories published, it seems something so far away since I have been wanting this for so long.

But back to my latest. Since starting to work for Crochet Spot I've had to work with HTML, and though I have a nodding acquaintance with it, I've never had the chance to use it. I fear I'm becoming somewhat of a nuisance to Rachel, the founder of Crochet Spot, who has been so patient in assisting me with it. I've never considered myself a slow learner, but there's just so much about HTML I can't grasp.

Actually, I've been wondering some of these things before having to come upon them. What I want in a blog is something that reflects me in all my random-retro-colorful style, with buttons and pages that look like something right out of my scrapbook. And that's essentially it, I want to set up my blog like I would a scrapbook page. The only problem is, I don't really know where to start.

Not long ago I noticed the "Edit HTML" button in my template options and I realized that I could get more (how much, I don't know) out this blog/template than I thought available on Blogspot. But where do I find all this paraphernalia that describes me, and secondly, how do I get it into the HTML?! Questions, questions, questions! Sounds like hours of research. But that's what the internet is for, isn't it? I just so happens, there are a dozen other things demanding hours of research, not to mention the hours of research my story writing needs. This brings me to another question: how do you balance all the things you need to do? We have a horrible problem around here of having too much to do and no time to do it in.

As for my blog plans, I'll hopefully be able to figure it out soon. Maybe I'll spend a post detailing exactly what I want. Sound boring? Hmm...

Speaking of future posts, I still have two more "Culinary Chronicles" I've promised but haven't written yet. On Kale Chips and Ginger Tea. I've finally got the pictures so I'll try to do them soon. Until then, I hope you enjoy browsing the contents of my blog. Make sure and leave me a message on what you think about it. And if you can tell me anything regarding the subject I have been speaking of (HTML) then I would love for you to tell me.

Culinary Chronicles - Mexican: Stir Fried Nopales

As I have said before, having an International Farmers Market open up nearby has been the making of us. We've discovered fresh produce in a whole new way and we are totally inspired. One item in particular, that I never thought I'd buy, is nopales, or cactus. Have you ever had nopales before? Does it sound a little too adventuresome? I'd encourage you to consider otherwise. It really is a delicious food when prepared right.

Before buying the produce, I looked online for the proper way to prepare and cook them. I found a few YouTube videos that gave me the general idea and some recipes that sounded good. My first recipe with them was a simple dish, Fried Nopales. I chopped some fresh onion and garlic and put them all in a skillet. Unfortunately I cooked them too long and the result was a strong, sort of sour flavor. Its hard to describe.

The first thing you'll notice when preparing nopales is that they secrete a thick goo. At first this may seem unappetizing but don't worry, there's a way to handle that. My second recipe was to boil the nopales. The goo reacts with the water and causes a foam. I drained the foam, and water, and refilled the pan to reboil. I did this a handful of times and I had a sort of green bean-tasting dish, very bland compared to the last one.

My third recipe I tried was a keeper though, and that is the one I will share with you today. But first, lets cover how to prepare the nopales. Making sure it is prepared right is crucial to the 'safety' of your guests. Stickers can be very uncomfortable, I am told.

Preparing Nopales

Choose pads that are about a handbreadth in length and width. Any larger and they won't be quite as tender, plus they have bigger stickers.

Step 1: Wash the cactus pads.

Step 2: CAREFULLY, using a sharp knife, cut off the base of the nopales and trim around the whole pad, making it easier to remove the stickers on the outside.

 Step 3: Scrape off spines and stickers on both sides and then lay pad aside.

Step 4: Rinse all the pads in cool water, rubbing gently to make sure all the stickers have been removed.

Step 5: Chop pads into small chunks or as desired.

Now you are ready to cook!

Stir-Fried Nopales Recipe

  • 8 nopales (cactus pads) about a handbreadth in length and width
  • 6-10 green onions
  • one bunch garlic cloves
  • 2 bell peppers (in the picture below you'll notice I used mini peppers)
  • 4 tomatoes (I used Roma)
  • fresh cilantro
  • coconut oil
  • red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Serves 8

Add a little coconut oil (or any cooking oil) to a medium sized skillet and turn on a low heat. Once the oil is hot enough for sautéing add the chopped nopales and a little salt. Stir it around real well and by now the nopales should be secreting more of its goo. Put a lid on the skillet and cook until all the goo is gone, (10-15 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cut the remaining vegetables and set aside. 

This is what your nopales should look like when all the goo is gone.

Now add onions and garlic and mix in. Cook for 5 minutes with the lid off.

Add peppers, salt and coarse ground peppercorns, and cook another 5 minutes.

Lastly, add chopped tomatoes, cilantro, and 2-3 tbsp of red wine vinegar. Cook for a few more minutes.

Now you have a delicious side to go with burritos, enchiladas, and anything else.

I hope you like this recipe and if you have any questions, just leave me a comment and I'll get back to you.