Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Species of the week–Giraffes!

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One of my favorite memories from the zoo is feeding giraffes!  These huge animals, with their incredibly strong legs and large hooves (as big as dinner plates!), can be so gentle.  Feeding giraffes gives you an up-close look at these beautiful creatures – those 18-20 inch prehensile tongues (designed to work around the thorns of Acacia trees) are pretty impressive!

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Check out this video to see that prehensile tongue in action!  And did you know that giraffes have the same number of cervical vertebrae (neck bones) as humans – 7?

Here are some more fun facts about giraffes, provided by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation:

  1. Giraffe gestation is about 15 months!  The calves will nurse for 9-12 months, but they can also eat solid food after about 4 months.
  2. Giraffes are ruminants, like cows – they can get nutrients from the cellulose in plants.
  3. No two giraffes have the same coat pattern – they’re like our fingerprints!
  4. Although giraffes can live to 25 years in the wild (longer in captivity), life isn’t a walk in the park for them. 50% of calves don’t survive their first year, due to predation by lions, hyenas, leopards, and wild dogs
  5. Giraffes only have to drink every few days.
  6. Giraffes have the biggest hearts of any land mammal!

Unfortunately, the current conservation news about giraffes isn’t all rosy.  An article in Scientific American reported that populations of giraffes have decreased by 40% in just the last 15 years.  This decline hasn’t been publicized in the news as much as the loss of other big mammals (think African elephant).  The IUCN Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group will be pulling together data in the next few years in order to quantify the giraffe’s status and make conservation recommendations.  Want to get involved?  Check out the Giraffe Conservation Foundation’s website for ways to help.

Sources:

Giraffe Conservation Foundation website.  Giraffe – the Facts. 2014. Web. July 1 2015 <http://www.giraffeconservation.org/giraffe_facts.php?pgid=40>

J. Platt. Giraffes under threat: Populations down 40% in just 15 years.  Scientific American.  November 24, 2014.  Web.  1 July 2015.  <http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/giraffes-under-threat-populations-down-40-percent-in-just-15-years/>

Friday, June 26, 2015

Pasta with mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes

It’s that time of year again!  Time for a favorite pasta dish that can be served cold (good news for the brown bag lunches).  There are no set amounts for this recipe – I’m going to give you “guesstimates,” and you can adjust to taste.
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Ingredients:

  • 1 lb pasta – any pasta will do, but I like the farfalle, because they’re sort of festive
  • 1 lb fresh mozzarella – I like the tiny little balls (boconccini or ciliegine) sliced in half, but you can also slice the bigger pieces into bite-size pieces
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, torn into smaller pieces
  • about 8 oz grape tomatoes – I leave them whole, because they keep better for the next day, but you can also slice them in half
  • about 2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions:
1)  Cook pasta to al dente and rinse in cool water
2)  Toss pasta with remaining ingredients

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Biodiversity and better health

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Biodiversity is a hot topic in conservation circles these days.  It’s becoming more and more obvious that we may be in the middle of a mass extinction event, and the first one that’s caused by humans.  Check out this video for a refresher on mass extinctions.

In previous posts we’ve defined biodiversity and why it’s important.  Now a couple of new reports show some of the direct effects that a loss of biodiversity has on humans.  Sarah DeWeerdt recently reported in Conservation Magazine on a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which demonstrates the “dilution effect” of biodiversity – increased biodiversity helps to “dilute” the prevalence of parasites and pathogens.

And even closer to home, NPR had an interesting story about bird diversity and West Nile virus.  Greater bird diversity, and fewer “reservoir hosts” for the pathogen, can help to decrease the occurrence of West Nile virus. 

So conserving biodiversity isn’t just for the tree huggers and bird watchers – there are practical applications for anyone who doesn’t like getting sick!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Vidalia Onion and Tomato Pie!

Today’s meat-free Friday recipe comes to us from guest blogger, Marna Ashburn!  Marna lives a little further south than I do, so she already has plenty of tomatoes.  I can’t wait to try this perfect summertime recipe.  You’ve seen Marna’s posts here before – be sure to check out her blog too!

Tomato Tart

It's my lucky summer. My neighbor offered me the overflow harvest from her backyard tomato plants, and this is one of the dishes I made (not to mention the bruschetta, salsa, and tomato and roasted red pepper soup). My two kids and I can eat this dish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sliced in smaller portions, it's also good for party food. Caramelizing the Vidalia onions deepens their already sweet flavor, and tomatoes "with-the-sun-still-on-them" takes things over the top.

Vidalia Onion and Tomato Pie

Ingredients

  • 7 layers Phyllo pastry sheets
  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 2 medium Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 5 large tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 t Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Thaw the Phyllo pastry according to directions on the package. Thawing the pastry can take two hours so plan ahead. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet and saute the onions at medium heat until caramelized into a light brown color. While they are cooking, lightly grease a cookie sheet. Carefully remove one Phyllo layer and place it on the cookie sheet. Brush with melted butter. Stack another sheet on top and brush with melted butter. Do this until you have seven layers. Bake in preheated oven for 5-7 minutes.

Cool the caramelized onions slightly. Mix the mayonnaise with Italian seasoning. Blend with the onions and spread mixture on the crust. Arrange sliced tomatoes on top. Add salt and pepper if you like. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes until cheese bubbles.

Marna Ashburn
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Tomato Bowl

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Where did you hike on National Trails Day?

  • Walking through the snow, searching for rabbit footprints.
  • Strolling beside a stream, turning over stones and hoping to find a salamander.
  • Hiking up a strenuous series of switchbacks in pursuit of a fantastic view of the valley.

These are just a few of the adventures awaiting you on the many hiking trails in your area!  Last weekend, we celebrated National Trails Day, so I headed to my favorite place – Sky Meadows State Park.  I found folks celebrating the day many different ways.  I ran into plenty of hikers enjoying the views and the beautiful woodlands:

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I found a trail crew updating the “blazes” that help hikers find their way on the trail:

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And I saw plenty of beautiful plants and animals:

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Sky Meadows’ trails aren’t just for hiking!  Folks were out enjoying the biking and horseback trails too:

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So much to do, so little time!  I guess we’ll have to celebrate the trails on more than one day.  Where are you headed for your next hike?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Watermelon and Feta Salad

OK, I know this recipe sounds a little odd, but it’s really tasty!  It comes to us from our friends Howard and Trish – Howard’s my husband’s biking buddy and time-trial coach.  The recipe doesn’t have specific amounts, so just use your greenmomster kitchen skillsDSC_0072 and keep tasting as you cook.

Ingredients:
1 watermelon, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 sweet onion, sliced
about 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
about 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Instructions:
1)  Combine watermelon, onion, and cheese.
2)  Toss with balsamic vinegar and enjoy!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Greening your lawn!


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In past posts, we’ve written about reducing your lawn in order to decrease its impact on the environment.  But what about the lawn you want to have?  Do you ever wonder how much fertilizer to put on your lawn?  On the one hand, you want the grass to grow, but on the other, you don’t want excess fertilizer running into the local lakes, rivers, and streams.  Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation has published a “fertilizer calculator” to help you apply the correct amount to your lawn, depending on the species of grass and time of year.  Check it out for a healthy, “green” lawn!

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