Saturday, December 29, 2007

Joshua Tree National Park

Like me, you're probably wondering what Joshua trees are exactly. Turns out they're a type of yucca that happens to grow tall. The Mormons who encountered them on their trek west gave the trees their name. They said the trees reminded them of Bible figure Joshua and his praying fingers pointing to heaven. Some people have way too much imagination.

The trees apparently are pretty picky when it comes to their surroundings. This recent article about the potential effects of global warming on California says scientists already are considering relocating Joshua tree seedlings to higher elevations that will be more welcoming to the trees in years to come.
We spent the day exploring the park's north side, which sits is part of the Mojave Desert. The big granite boulder mounds made me crazy. I wanted to climb on top of all of them.
Are these trees really big or is Rex really small?
The rock climbers were out in full force.
This is Mount San Gorgonio piercing through the shroud of smog that drifts into the Coachella Valley from Los Angeles to the west. At 11,499 feet, the peak is the highest point in Southern California. Hidden below the haze is Palm Springs.

Rex does his best impression of a desert lizard at mid-day.
We didn't see much of any wildlife (unless you include squawking ravens and the equally noisy children who roamed every trail), but we did stumble upon a couple of piles of what looked to be coyote poop.

Trip to the SoCal high desert

This is Twentynine Palms . . .
Home of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (that's part of it far in the background at the base of the mountains) . . . and not much else.

My dad was stationed here in 1953 before he shipped off to Korea. He was part of a contingent of 100 Marines that re-opened the base after it was mothballed following the end of WWII.

We're here as part of our New Year weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park and Lake Havasu, Arizona, where we'll be visiting old friends of mine whom I haven't seen since high school.
In Twentynine Palms we found a handful of strip shopping centers, some fast-food restaurants, plenty of tattoo parlors and City Hall, a single-story painted cinder-block building.

I couldn't help recalling my days just out of college when I lived near Fort Polk in western Louisiana and covered the Army post and the surrounding military towns for the Lake Charles (La.) American Press. I've come to believe that all military towns pretty much look and feel the same no matter where they are.
Signs of Twentynine Palm's big neighbor are everywhere.
Not far from our hotel we found these cool murals celebrating local desert wildlife.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Show your . . . mascots!

Just when I thought the rivalry between LSU and Alabama couldn't get any nastier, these pics surfaced on several college sports blogs.
I don't know about the rest of you, but I can't pick between the air-brushed Bear Bryant houndstooth cap and the reverse fanny pack as the element that best completes the classic Bama-fan look.

Once again, LSU wins a close one. GEAUX, um, TIGERS!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas crawfish pie

This was my contribution to our Christmas lunch at Rex's house. I only remembered to take a picture of the cooked pie after most of it had been devoured.I doctored a simple recipe from Emeril Lagasse that I found here. I started by sautéing chopped onions, celery and bell peppers (one cup of each) in half a stick of melted butter.Once the veggies were soft and the onions were golden, I added a drained can of chopped tomatoes and cooked everything over medium high heat for about six minutes. I seasoned the mixture with cayenne pepper and salt. Then I added half a cup of chopped parsley and 1 1/2 pounds of cooked crawfish tails with fat, and I let the mixture cook uncovered for another six minutes until the liquid reduced and began to thicken.

Then it was time to add a thickening agent.

A lot of crawfish pie recipes use flour or starch. Another choice, favored by both of my sisters, is to add a can of creamed soup (mushroom or celery).

I opted, instead, for four tablespoons of dry roux. I picked up a few bottles of the Kary's brand when I was last in Louisiana. I've since used the roux in several dishes, including gumbo and smothered okra, and I've been very happy with the results.

If buying dry roux at the grocery isn't an option, then you can make your own by following these directions.

Back to the pie. I moved the crawfish and vegetable mixture to the sides of the pot and used a whisk to mix the four tablespoons of dry roux with the gravy in the center. Once the powder was fully incorporated, I stirred the entire mixture together and let it cook for another six minutes.
After taking the filling off the burner and letting it cool for about 30 minutes, I spooned it into a 9-inch pie pan that was lined with an uncooked pie crust. I topped the pie with another crust, pinched the edges to seal it and cut several slits in the top to allow venting in the oven.

I baked the pie at 400 degrees F for about 45 minutes until the top crust was golden brown.

The final result was fantastic. The dry roux was a perfect thickening agent, and it deepened the flavor of the filling without overpowering the flavor of the other ingredients.

My previous attempts at crawfish pie had always resulted in a runny filling that leaked everywhere once a slice was cut. But that wasn't the case with this version. The pieces were easy to slice, and the filling held together well after they were served.
Rex, Fentress, Steffen and Benji enjoyed the warm temperatures and clear skies here in San Diego before moving inside for the traditional Xmas food orgy prepared by Jesse's loving hands.

Dreaming of a white Christmas

This was the scene three years ago on my street in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans when the rarest of rare things happened on Christmas day - it SNOWED!
A freakish winter storm swept across the Gulf Coast and dropped just over half an inch of wet, clumpy white stuff on the city around mid-afternoon. Here's how things looked in front of my house as it started to fall.

Of course, none of us in the city had any idea that just eight months later a storm of a more sinister nature would devastate the region and change all of our lives.
So we innocently reveled in the novelty of the moment. Nero and I joined my neighbor Brenda and her black pug Fluckie for a walk through the hood.
The brief storm left my backyard garden dusted in white. Click on any pic to view it larger.

From my bag of Christmas video goodies

Bing and Bowie sing "Little Drummer Boy"
I remember watching this live on television in 1977 and thinking that something really special had just happened.

"The 12 Yats of Christmas"
You might need subtitles for this one if you're not from N'Awlins.

"White Christmas"

No, she's not a drag queen. She's Spanish actress and singer Itziar Castro.

Santa does "Jesus Freak"

Better than acid

And finally, this mesmerizing holiday homage to Trinity Broadcasting Network diva and big hair luminary Jan Crouch. (If you think she's amazing as I do, just read this about her preacher husband Paul.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas goes to the dogs

Balboa Park was crawling with dachshunds that were out for the second-annual "Walking in a Wiener Wonderland."
Rex was in heaven. He wants one of these critters - a chocolate one - despite warnings that they can be temperamental, territorial and high-maintenance. He was particularly taken with the dog pictured above who, at the age of 16, recently was equipped with this doggie wheelchair.
The gathering climaxed at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion where all of the dogs paraded across the stage as a singer belted a special version of the Christmas classic that inspired the event's name.

Here's a video that Rex shot of the spectacle.

Air and Space Museum

We arrived just in time to watch this Southwest plane buzz the Air and Space Museum in Balboa Park on its way to land at Lindbergh Field in downtown San Diego.
This is a fake. (The museum calls it a working reproduction.)
Much of the museum is devoted to the early days of flight and war planes from WWI and WWII. The displays are somewhat cluttered and haphazard, and have an outdated feel . . .
It borders on being creepy at times.
There's a huge display tracking the history of the now-defunct Pacific Southwest Airlines, which was based in San Diego.
These mannequins are modeling some of the uniforms worn by PSA stewardesses over the airline's four decades of service.

Strangely, there's barely a mention in the display about the PSA jet that crashed into my neighborhood of North Park on Sept. 25, 1978, after colliding in the air with a Cessna, killing 144 people. At the time, the crash was the worst airline disaster in U.S. history, and it remains the deadliest plane crash in California.

The entire event gets only a brief mention in a single paragraph of text buried in the middle of one of several narrative panels.
Rex and I would have been happier with more space exhibits. Here, Rex stands next to the capsule that returned the Apollo 9 crew back to Earth following a 10-day orbiting mission in 1969.

A rock from the moon.
This is an actual global positioning satellite.
Who knew so many astronauts hailed from San Diego? The most famous one has to be Sally Ride, who became the first American woman in space when she flew aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983.

Balboa Park

The weather was perfect Sunday for roaming through San Diego's biggest green space.
It seems like every time we visit Balboa we stumble upon something new. On this visit we found an art deco mural and fountain inside the Balboa Park Club, constructed in 1915 to house the New Mexico exhibit for the Panama-California Exposition then later expanded for the 1935 California Pacific Exposition.
This cluster of tiny cottages houses international cultural displays.
Here's the one occupied by China.

This is Sweden's cottage. Sometimes the cottage staffs serve food from their native cuisines, but no such luck on this trip.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Southern hospitality

A Monroe car dealership apparently spent $12,000 placing this billboard along Interstate 20 near the northeastern Louisiana city.

The sign celebrates the University of Louisiana Monroe's shocking football win over Bama in Tuscaloosa last month.

The billboard happens to sit right along the route (click on map) that most Bama fans will drive next weekend as they head to Shreveport to see the Crimson Tide play Colorado in the Independence Bowl.

Maybe the sign will boost Bama head coach Nick Saban's recruiting efforts in Tiger Country.

More from our recent trip to the zoo

Monday, December 17, 2007

The zoo

We spent part of Sunday roaming around the San Diego Zoo. It's something we do from time to time since we both have memberships that let us visit as often as we want.
We saw festive frogs.
And this huge albino python.
"Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup."
A viper checks out dinner. My nephew, who has a pet ball python, says these snake kiddie meals are called pinkies.
Rex enjoying the ride high above the zoo on the aerial tram.
Rex trying to prey on the Cajun's intense and well-known fear of losing his life in a freakish, headline-grabbing zoo tram accident.
After the ride, I needed unicorn therapy.