Monkey business under the Hunger Moon

The Hunger Moon* was rising as we unhitched our Airstream Safari in the California desert, which marked the conclusion of the 15-day celebration of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Monkey.*

DSC_0038 Hunger Moon 2016

This moon is also called the Snow Moon* because it usually occurs during the snowiest month of the year, but in San Diego, we just had the hottest February since records began in 1874.  Here in the desert, we experienced comfortably warm, sunny days, and cool, clear nights that were perfect for celebrating the Chinese Lantern Festival* as we did last year at this site, except this time, we suspended a large paper Chinese lantern with string attached to a long bamboo stick from our garden.

DSC_0049 Chinese Lantern Festival Full Moon

Evening breezes made low light photography of this large paper Chinese lantern challenging until I held on to it…

DSC_0079 Lantern festival celebrator

while our Chinese lucky lion* looked on and laughed (perhaps regarding the Year of the Monkey political predictions)!

DSC_0065 Chinese lantern festival lion

The Chinese New Year* is also known as the Spring Festival,* and this year, it felt like spring arrived early at our campsite, especially with freshly cut Freesia flowers that Larry brought from home.

DSC_0007 Spring Year of the Monkey

Larry also brought a pork and mushroom mixture that was placed in dumpling wrappers to make siu mai,* which were then steamed.

DSC_0121 Larry making siu mai

DSC_0131 Pork mushroom siu mai

Recent rain and warmer temperatures have brought new growth and flowers to Agua Caliente’s Moonlight Canyon flora.

DSC_0097 Moonlight Canyon

Swaths of red were seen across the desert due to prolific chuparosa, Justicia californica, blooms.

DSC_0106 Agua Caliente chuparosa

And a beautiful and fragrant Cattleya bloom greeted us upon arrival home and seemed to announce the arrival of spring!

DSC_0191 Cattleya (at home)

“Winter is gone, the mountains are clear, and water sparkles… Spring comes, birds sing, and flowers fragrant.” (A Chinese Spring Festival – New Year’s couplet,* Chun lian.)

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Summer spiders, flowers, stir-fry and Sonoran hot dogs

As our Airstream Safari rested between camping seasons, an orb-weaving spider spun a sticky, spiral-wheel shaped web* attached to the trailer’s rock guard and waited for the capture of its next prey.*

DSC_0013-2 Orb-weaver spider

On the eve of summer solstice, our night-blooming Queen of the Night (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) produced six blooms by our outdoor kitchen (See “A night-blooming interlude“, History Safari Expresso).

DSC_0487 Cereus & outdoor kitchen

Under the Full Buck Moon,* our pitahaya (Hylocereus undatus) sent up into the heavens its first spectacular bloom over the patio pergola (See “A pitahaya summer interlude,” History Safari Expresso).

DSC_0025 Pitahaya bloom 2015

Under the pergola, Larry stir-fried meat, then vegetables, in a wok over a 250,000 BTU burner and then tossed them with pan-fried Cantonese-style egg noodles that were golden “brown, firm and crispy on the outside, and yellow, moist and soft on the inside, a combination of texture that is classically Chinese.** (See “How to make chow mein with Ken Hom“.*)

DSC_0032 Stir-frying in patio kitchen

For my turn in our outdoor kitchen, I made my version of the Sonoran hot dog, based on a recipe adapted from Robb Walsh’s The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook.

DSC_0048 Sonoran hot dog prep

A Sonoran-style hot dog is a grilled bacon-wrapped hot dog placed in a toasted bolillo (Mexican-style bun) and topped with your favorite condiments.  I prepared bowls of chopped tomato, onion, avocado, grated cheese, refried beans, and fresh salsa verde (made by Larry).

DSC_0049 Sonoran hot dog prep 2

The grill was fired up and the dogs were cooked until the bacon was crispy (about 7 minutes).

DSC_0054 Cooking Sonoran hot dogs

The bolillos were toasted and the pocket was lined with refried beans, avocado and cheese.  The cooked dog was placed inside and topped with chopped onions, tomatoes, salsa verde and squiggles of a blend of mayo, Tabasco, and lime (or lemon) juice.

DSC_0059 Hotdog drizzled with mayo-blend

Earlier this month, The Huffington Post said, “Make Sonoran Hot Dogs, And You’ll Never Go Back.”  The history of the Sonoran hot dog can be traced from Hermosillo, Sonora, to New York, Los Angeles, and Tucson.  Perhaps TBM has earned enough dietary credits to do another Tucson Sonoran Hot Dog test!

DSC_0057 Fiesta in a bun

The Sonoran hot dog is truly a fiesta on a bun!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

**Asian Vegetarian Feast: Tempting Vegetable And Pasta Recipes From The East, Ken Hom, William Morrow and Company, New York, 1988, p. 150-151.

Author’s note: For additional visual delights, see “A Peruvian Apple Cactus interlude,” History Safari Expresso.

Catfish by the sea, again

For the past eight years, we’ve rounded out our camping season by unhitching our Airstream Safari trailer on the bluffs of South Carlsbad State Beach.  Reservations for the popular beach side campsites need to be made up to  6 months in advance.  Our favorite site has windblown bushes (Melaleuca nesophila) that provide privacy, but California’s drought is now having an impact on them.  A ranger told me that the park is now limiting watering to three times per week and will be replacing the turf with drought tolerant plants.

DSC_0114 South Carlsbad State Beach

DSC_0128 Campsite on the bluff

Each year we enjoy listening to the continuous sound of the surf* and watching the shore birds soar by on the updraft of the sea breeze along the bluffs.

DSC_0068 Surf at Carlsbad

DSC_0337 Pelicans soaring

Nearby is The Flower Fields* 50-acre garden on the Carlsbad Ranch, featuring Giant Tecolote Ranuculus blooms* 10 weeks each spring sustained by reclaimed water from the City of Carlsbad and a drip irrigation system.

DSC_0035 The Flower Fields

DSC_0043 Giant Tecolote Ranunculus

On this trip I did  a photo shoot of a crow dive-bombing a squirrel hole in an attempt to capture young squirrels (See the dramatic photos and story in my post, “A crow and squirrel interlude,” History Safari Expresso).  I was also lucky to have the camera ready when a Great blue heron landed on our campsite fence.

DSC_0293 The crow and the squirrel

DSC_0225 Great blue heron

We decorated our outdoor camp kitchen with papel picado for celebrating Cinco de Mayo.*  Larry deep fried catfish.

DSC_0144 Cooking catfish, Cinco de Mayo

DSC_0157 Catfish by the sea

The last time we ate catfish by the sea, we enjoyed beautiful, glowing sunsets.  This time the sun silhouetted San Clemente Island.

DSC_0191 Flying solo at sunset

The ocean is a wonderful place to contemplate the mysteries and celebrations of life, as seen in my post, “Ocean gleanings,” History Safari Expresso.

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

It’s cooking up in the desert, again!

Earlier this month, we enjoyed sunny days and moderate temperatures while we celebrated the Lantern Festival and the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations.  We spent relaxing cool evenings, sitting outside stargazing while the Full Worm Moon brilliantly lit up our Airstream Safari trailer and the surrounding Anza-Borrego Desert.

DSC_0290 Under full moon & stars

I enjoyed rich coffee, cake and reading material in the mornings before going on hikes.  I was hoping to photograph once more the elusive bighorn sheep, especially since this is the Year of the Sheep.*

DSC_0208 Morning coffee & cake

As I started my hike, the first flower that I saw was nearby our campsite.

DSC_0056 Beavertail Cactus

Beavertail Cactus, Opuntia basilaris

I then got on the Moonlight Canyon Trail where I had photographed bighorn sheep last December.

DSC_0113 Moonlight Canyon Trail

That morning, the granite walls were still cold from the chilly, desert night air and I was greeted by soothing, cool air as I entered the trail from the east.

As I hiked over the trail’s saddle, I spotted a blooming barrel cactus in front of ocotillo (Whale Mountain is seen in the background).

DSC_0142 California barrel cactus

California barrel cactus, Ferocactus cylindraceus

The next morning, I hiked up the Desert Overlook Trail to get current photos of Agua Caliente County Park.

DSC_0225 Agua Caliente County Park

I was especially interested in getting an updated, overhead view of the camping loop where our original, favorite campsite and eleven other RV sites were displaced by seven cabins, which I documented in “Cabinization of our parks.”  Each cabin has an array of solar panels and the camping fee is currently $70 per night.  They are typically all occupied on weekends.

DSC_0233 7 cabins displaced 12 RV sites

Each evening Larry prepared gustatory delights, such as deep-fried Szechuan pepper-salt calamari rings, Japanese eggplant and Mexican zucchini.

DSC_0268 Deep-frying calamari rings

DSC_0275-2 Fried calamari rings & squash

The desert is also cooking up, with temperatures currently 90°, so we won’t be back here until next fall.

DSC_0105 Our Agua Caliente campsite

We are currently enjoying our garden near the coast, while preparing for our return to the mountains next month.  See our garden blooms in my post, “Spring flowers, leaves and end of life options,” in my new blog, History Safari Expresso, while enjoying a rich cup of coffee or espresso.*

*This is a YouTube video.

Fenghuang flies over the desert

Yet another storm was bringing snow to the East Coast as we were enjoying sunny days, temperatures in the 70s, and the Full Worm Moon* over the Anza-Borrego Desert at the beginning of March.  We did have a brief shower on our first day and snow fell on the Laguna Mountains that we had passed over the day before.  The passing storm brought ghostly cloud formations.

DSC_0005 Passing winter storm

DSC_0026 Clouds over Tierra Blanca Mts

We also continued celebrating the Lunar New Year,* the Year of the Wood Sheep, that began on the new moon, February 19, and continued until the arrival of the full moon and Lantern Festival on March 5.  For the occasion, Larry made an Almond Bundt Cake with a Chinese figurine centerpiece symbolizing the Year of the Sheep.*

DSC_0078 Almond Bundt Cake

A Chinese dragon is seen in the image above and traditionally symbolizes auspicious powers, strength, and good luck.  The predominant color used in Lunar New Year celebrations is red, symbolizing joy, virtue, truth, sincerity, and prosperity.  Larry decorated our campsite with festive symbols and colors that included a flying Chinese dragon that we call Fenghuang.

DSC_0178 Flying Chinese dragon

Our Fenghuang has a dragon head chasing the mystical flaming pearl of wisdom and truth, Chinese phoenix wings, and carp scales and tail (In Chinese mythology, carp that can leap the Yellow River falls are transformed into dragons* and fly off into the sky). Fenghuang symbolizes the union of yin and yang.  It also symbolizes high virtue and grace, and is the name we gave to our rig (“feng” is male, our F-250 tow vehicle, and “huang” is female, our Airstream Safari trailer).

Larry also prepared Chinese dishes such as dim sum* shrimp and pork pot stickers.

DSC_0171 Larry making pot stickers

The pot stickers were made and then fried and steamed.

DSC_0191 frying & steaming pot stickers

DSC_0182 Pot stickers

We celebrated the last day of the Lunar New Year celebrations by hanging Chinese paper lanterns that my late father gave us over twenty years ago (last month we celebrated our 44th anniversary of being together)!

DSC_0339 Chinese paper lanterns

As the full moon appeared on the desert horizon, we placed flickering LED tea candles in the lanterns.

DSC_0369 Lit Chinese paper lanterns

Friends joined us for this joyful and magical moment as we watched the moon rise and the lanterns gently sway in the breeze on this Lantern Festival night.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.