Do You Think You’ve Had Kobe Beef?

What is it about Kobe Beef?

How much will you pay for a good piece of steak? Thirty, forty, fifty dollars? Imagine paying five hundred dollars for the chance to consume the most prized steak in the world! In Japan, only beef from a special breed of cow from a remote, isolated region can make Kobe beef, the most prized beef in the world. You may think you’ve had Kobe beef, but odds are, if you had it outside of Japan, it was only “Kobe-style” beef, as importation from Japan is almost impossible! What’s so special about Kobe beef? Why do chefs and foodies pay over one hundred dollars a pound for the chance to taste it?


To create this special, expensive type of beef, the Tajima type of Wagyu cattle are raised in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture (whose capital is Kobe), according to a strict tradition. As the bloodline of the Wagyu cattle developed in this region isolated breeding, prized genetic characteristics developed as well. The main reason why Kobe beef is so prized is its distinctive flavor and intramuscular fat—called “marbling,” which stems from these genetic predispositions as well as distinctive rearing techniques. Tajima cattle are genetically predisposed to a high percentage of oleaginous saturated fat, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which contributes to the marbling of the beef. Because of the isolated areas in which the cattle are raised, they are not able to exercise on such a limited availability of land. To prevent stiffness, soreness, and to induce hunger during the humid season, the cattle’s muscles are massaged. The ranchers also rub the cattle’s hides with sake, as it is often believed that soft hides produce a more tender meat.

Additionally, beer or sake is sometimes added to their feeding regimen. As a result of this careful, attentive breeding and rearing tradition, the meat from the cattle has an enhanced flavor, a good “mouthfeel,” and a tenderness and juiciness that some say cannot be beat. As most foodies know, the flavor of a steak isn’t in the meat itself, but in the fat of the cut, and when steak is marbled like a Kobe beef steak, you can only imagine the level of flavor. While delicious tasting, Kobe beef is also a great source of vitamins and nutrients.

The higher levels of good fatty acids protect you from heart disease, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s Disease, and many more ailments.

If you happen to get a hold of some Kobe beef, it is of utmost importance that it is prepared correctly. A steak of Kobe beef are best cooked rare, and should never be served above medium rare in order to achieve maximum flavor. Many hotpot Japanese restaurants are even serving slices of raw Kobe beef to be cooked lightly in the steaming water. Any quick-searing technique like a stir-fry is also recommended. There are many different ways in which you can cook Kobe beef, but the one rule remains clear and certain: do not overcook it, as it loses that intense flavor the more the beef is cooked through.

Kobe wagyu cattle
Photo By Tavallai (Flickr creative commons)

Kobe beef, however, rarely leaves the country of Japan (in fact, it’s illegal in the US!), and the prices are quite steep. In the US, we understand that meat ratings go from “Select,” to “Choice,” to “Prime”—however, in Japan, Kobe beef is actually ranked “Platinum,” at least two grades higher than Prime. Additionally, in order to be considered “Kobe beef,” there are certain conditions that must be fulfilled:

1. The cattle must be Tajima cattle( you may see Wagyu  references, meaning japanese Cow) and must be born and farm-fed in the Hyogo Prefecture,

2. they must be a steer, or bullock (ie., a castrated bull);

3. they must be processed at slaughterhouses in KobeNishinomiyaSandaKakogawa and Himeji in the Hyogo Prefecture,

4. their marbling ratio, or BMS, must be level 6 and above, and a Meat Quality Score of 4 or 5, and

5. the gross weight of beef from one animal must be 470 kg or less.

One may wonder, with all of these restrictions, whether or not Kobe beef is worth all the money and hype. Some say that Kobe beef is quite similar to the ambiguity of quality in US Angus beef—that the genetics of the breed doesn’t always dictate the quality. Those who disagree say that the taste is all in the preparation, and that, if cooked wrong, one could lose the delicacy of the beef. However, this matter is continually up for debate, and restaurants outside of Japan have had a massive increase of mislabeled beef and faux “Kobe-style” beef (taken from Wagyu cattle crossbred with Angus cattle) to meet high demands in the US and around the world. Recently, programs have begun  to will eventually allow limited quantities of Wagyu beef to be purchased.

If these programs are successful, and if this type of market is profitable for the Kobe cattle industry, it may become possible for Americans to have not just “Kobe-style” beef, but Kobe beef itself. Only then will you be able to take part in the debate!

A Serving Of Scottish Rumbledethumps

Scottish Rumbledethumps

What do you do with your leftovers? Are they lost forever in your freezer? Is there a lovely frozen meal in your work refrigerator right now, just waiting to be eaten for lunch? In Scotland, leftovers don’t have to include zip-top bags, or sodium-saturated (but flavor-deficient!) frozen meals. In comes Rumbledethumps—what a name, for such a dish! Did you know that the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, named Rumbledethumps as his favorite dish? Rumbledethumps is a traditional cabbage and potato dish originally from the Scottish borders, most often made from left over potatoes, cabbage or swede (otherwise known as a turnip). It is even often made using leftovers from a Sunday roast meal.

The name “Rumbledethumps” actually comes from that rumbling noise in the kitchen and in the pot as the dish is being prepared. Think about it—the knocking and thumping of preparing potatoes and cabbage can’t be a silent process! Different countries have their own version of this comfort food, the most popular being England’s Bubble and Squeak, and Ireland’s Colcannon. It is often said that the best thing about Scottish Rumbledethumps is that, even as it can be made from leftovers, it ends up lending itself to many more leftovers as well! It is even a dish that can be made the day before, only to be heated up for lunchtime the next day!

There are a few different ways to prepare Rumbledethumps, and involve variant processes, since the making of the dish necessarily depends on what is left over. However, the traditional baking of this dish involves mixing chopped, boiled cabbage, and mashed potatoes (or “tatties”!) into a buttered frying pan. Cook this mixture gently for a few minutes so that the cabbage and potatoes are softened, but not brown. Sometimes the cabbage can also be fried without the mashed potatoes, only to be combined with the potatoes in the final baking process.

At this point, the mixture is most often covered with a sharp, white, cheddar cheese and placed into a covered, oven-proof dish, to be baked for about thirty minutes in a 350 °F/180°C oven. Sometimes it is simply served as is, without baking.

The different processes can have different end results, as you can imagine. Sometimes it’s more of a stew, and sometimes it’s a pie in itself, similar to Shepherd’s Pie. Either way, you can serve it piping hot, or save it for tomorrow’s lunch at the office, or to feed your hungry family the following night. It can be eaten on its own, as it is quite hearty, but it is also often paired as a side dish with meat, or even with a fried egg on top. Many Scots even pair it with another traditional dish, Haggis! The beauty of Rumbledethumps lies inherently in how simple it is—there are an almost infinite number of variations to the dish, depending on your tastebuds! You can add crispy bacon, leeks, spring onions, or even spices like nutmeg grated on top.  The choice is yours! If you’re in need of a recipe, here is one sure to put the “comfort” in “comfort food”:

Rumbledethumps Ingredients:

1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced-about 8 cups

2 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup chopped chives

1 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (4 oz.)

Rumbledethumps

Directions:
1. Butter an 8 cup baking dish.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F.

3. Cook cabbage in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 2 minutes.

4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cabbage to a bowl.

5. Return water to a boil and add potatoes.

6. Cook until tender.

7. Drain and return potatoes to the pot.

8. Add butter and mash potatoes.

9. Mix in chives and then cabbage.

10. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

11. Spoon mixture into prepared dish.

12. Sprinkle with cheese.

13. Bake about 35 minutes until cheese bubbles.

Alternatively, a dish called Kailkenny is a form of Rumbledethumps from Aberdeen, that replaces the butter in the recipe with cream. Other potato dishes that are quite similar to the simplicity of Rumbledethumps include Clapshot and Stovies from Scotland, Pyttipanna from Norway (or Pyttipannu in Finland), Trinxat from the Catalonian region of Spain, Roupa Velha from Portugal, or Stoemp from Belgium. As you can tell, pairing potatoes with greens is quite common no matter what country you’re from!

So, the next time you’re in a leftover rut, or can’t think of what to do with all of those mashed potatoes you have left over, make sure to think of Scotland and its simply-designed, family-friendly, variation-happy, Rumbledethumps!

Should You Visit The Seychelles…?

Photo By TravelOurPlanet.com (cc)

The Seychelles

If you’re thinking about visiting the Seychelles then hopefully this whistle stop guide will help make your mind up…

The Seychelles are an archipelago, or island chain, east of mainland Africa.  The islands were fought over by the French and British for hundreds of years before finally landing under British rule. The exporting of coconut, sugarcane and cotton sustained the culture and is still their main exports. They gained their independence from Britain in 1976 and thrive as a republic under the commonwealth.

There are 25 districts that make up the inner islands of the Seychelles. The districts are grouped into basic demographic areas. Eight are grouped together and called Greater Victoria. This district is the capital of Seychelles. Fourteen are on the main island of Mahé and are designated a rural area and many are uninhabited.

Mahe holds most of the historic sites of Seychelles.  There are several museums and ecotourism locations to learn about the culture, traditions and environment. La Plaine St. Andre is an old restored plantation house that offers a special glimpse into life in the Seychells. Explore the past with the interactive exhibits and period clothes. You can enjoy a fine gourmet meal, tour the grounds and plantation and get an authentic feel for life in the Seychelles in the past and present.

Mahe has several unbelievable beaches. The waters in Seychelles is an incredible warm temperature all year round. The beaches are soft and powdery. Swimming, snorkeling, surfing and diving take on a whole new feeling when you can see the marine life so clearly in front of you.

Turtle Bay has shallow warm waters that are amazing for marine life watching. When the small tides roll in and wash back out rock pools hold lots of tiny surprises. Small fish, mussels, tiny octopus and plant life get caught in the rock pools and wait for the next wave.

There are tons of great little shops all over the Seychelles. You can literally lose hours and even days ambling through the many unique specialty shops. Mahe has great shopping and also has designer labels and famous stores.

The specialty shops like The Black Pearl in Praslin is where you get a real feel for the culture of Seychelles. Tea and perfumes are made locally and its in these specialty shops that you’ll find handcrafted items like these. The aroma is unlike anything in the rest of the world.

Seychelles food
Photo By TheLastResorts (CC) on Flickr

The Black Pearl is also a giant clam and pearl farm. It’s the only pearl farm in the Indian Ocean region and cultures its own pearls. Learn about the feeding habits of giant clams and how pearls are formed. The gift shop is full of handmade pearl jewelry and other trinkets.

There are myriad opportunities to enjoy the gorgeous landscape of Seychelles. Hiking, biking and horseback riding opportunities abound. Don’t stop there. Take a boat tour or go deep sea fishing. Take off exploring the countryside on some ATV’s.

Anse Major is an easy trail, best for those who are new to hiking Seychelles. It winds around the coastline onto a secluded beach. For those a little more adept at hiking, Cassedent is a great place. It’s a bit long and has plenty of uphill and downhill stretches to keep things interesting. The trail splits and comes back together among palm trees, screw pines, endemic trees and a multitude of wild life. It ends at a majestic waterfall to make it worth the work of getting there.

Food in the Seychelles is definitely a cultural experience. Creole cuisine graces the menu of even the swankiest restaurants and you’re liable to run into a seafood dish even at breakfast. The tropical fruits of the area play a part in the dishes in so many surprising ways. New flavors mesh seamlessly familiar tastes and flood your senses. Eating becomes an ethereal experience.

Anse Volbert, Isla Praslin, Seychelles
Photo By ReservasdeCoches.com (cc) on Flickr

The fish that live in the Indian Ocean grow large and thick. Served on your plate, they are meaty and flavorful unlike anywhere else on the planet. Seafood is served so often here because of the meaty, flavorful abundance of the ocean’s harvest.

In addition to the plentiful seafood, many recipes incorporate native fruits and nuts for a unique flavor. Coconut milk is used a lot and can be found in both warm and cold cocktails. Various wild bird eggs are also a big delicacy in Seychelles and are most often boiled or served as an omelet.

Much of the cultural entertainment is provided through song and storytelling. The Creole culture is celebrated in a yearly festival. Old folklore is passed down and cultures and tradition is shared. This festival is important to the natives and fascinating for travelers.

Visiting Seychelles is different than being anywhere else. There is a feeling unlike any place else on earth. The attractions, wildlife, natural wonders and faultless beaches pool together to make an unbelievable vacation destination for anyone in the family. It’s a vacation no one will soon forget.

Roslyn Washington – More Than A Moosefest?

Photo By Blake Handley CC

Rosyln Washington

Sometimes you just happen across a little town or city or bend in the road that strikes you as special. The attractions may not be Vegas style and the events may be closer to an ice cream social than a red carpet extravaganza but it just feels good. Roslyn, Washington is a place like that.

Roslyn is unassuming and yet it has had both a film and an entire television series filmed in its midst. It is small but its population skyrockets a few times a year during their unique festivals and local activities. The character, ambiance and environment draw visitors from all over the world each year.

Roslyn, a city in Kittitas County, Washington, United States, has a population of less than 1000. In the late 1800’s coal was discovered and soon after it became a thriving coal mining city. Its abundance of coal allowed it to become instrumental in the railroad industry.The varied and unique cultures and traditions of the area stem from these coal mining/railroad days. The never ending, backbreaking work of the coal mines drew immigrants by the boatloads in search of work and a better life in America.

Rosyln Washington

 

Immigrant workers came from Italy, Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, bringing their cultures and traditions with them. Most of the area’s residents are descendents of these immigrant workers.

The deadliest mining accident in Washington history happened in tiny Roslyn. Mine No. 4 exploded in 1892 and killed 45 miners. The mine shaft exploded and everything within 200 yards was destroyed by the burning wooden frame structures that were shot out of the devastation. The ground shook like an earthquake as the explosions tore through the mine shafts. Tours and tales of this tragedy abound today throughout Roslyn.

The coal production began to slow in 1910 after nearly 2 million tons were excavated. By the early twenties, diesel replaced coal and the mines shut down. The city never lost its “company town” atmosphere, however.  After so many years as a coal mining town, dependent on the company store and the Northern Pacific Coal Company, Roslyn kept its company store in business for many years and used it as a community gathering spot. The company store still stands and is in use today as a historical landmark.

The distinct uniqueness of the town has drawn film and television producers into its midst. The Runner Stumbles, starring Dick Van Dyke and Kathleen Quinlan, was filmed in Roslyn and released in 1979. The local residents appeared as extras and in bit parts. The Immaculate Conception Church of Roslyn played an integral part of the film and still draws visitors to the city.

Roslyn Cafe Washington
Photo By Curtis Cronn (cc) on Flickr

From 1990 through 1995, the hugely successful American television show, Northern Exposure was also filmed in Roslyn. The show starred Rob Morrow, Janine Turner, Darren E. Burrows, John Corbett, Cynthia Geary, Elaine Miles, Barry Corbin and John Cullum.

The show centered on the town and the fictional people who lived there but it used many locals as extras and some even had recurring characters. The town’s main street, radio station, bar and many other locations were frequently part of the storylines.

Each year a Moosefest is held in Roslyn to celebrate Northern Exposure. Visitors come from all over the world to participate in this fan festival. Celebrities from the show come to town and participate in panel discussions, games, contest and autographing.

The festivals activities include a costume contest where participants dress in costume from their favorite moment in the five year long series. Tours of the shooting sites, questions and answer with guest stars and meals are all part of this fan festival each year.

The tavern in Roslyn, “The Brick” , was used in the show and is said to be the oldest tavern in the state. The exterior was used for the show while the inside shots were filmed on a set in Washington. Other building like the general store and the doctor’s office where used in their entirety in the show, are still in use today and are part of the tour each year during Moosefest.

Roslyn has several historic cemeteries that are also big tourist attractions. They are all on the National register of Historic Places. The cemetery is unique as it has 26 separate but adjacent plots. They were purchased by the various civic organizations formed from the many immigrant workers. There are 24 nationalities represented among the 5,000 graves.

The Roslyn Museum and the Historic Coal Mines offer a taste of Roslyn from its early beginnings. Artifacts, remains, exhibits and relics of all sorts are on display to educate visitors on the town’s humble beginnings in the coal mines. Tours are given of the mining sites but no inside tours are permissible for safety reasons.

Hike the Coal Miners trail for a hands-on experience of the original railroad line that put Roslyn on the map. Visit the Coal Miners Memorial to pay tribute to the many hard working coal miners that toiled in the dangerous mines.

A vacation to Roslyn is a trip full of fun and eccentricity. This tiny town is full of history and character and personality. Barry Corbin, star of Northern Exposure, once said that Roslyn has so much personality it became a tangible character in the show.

Come and meet Roslyn. You’ll fall in love forever.

Written by Kelly Banaski Sons

The Lemur Leaf Frog – Is It Real?

This unique creature, known as the Lemur Leaf Frog, has some really incredible abilities. It regularly elicits anonymous comments on the internet such as “I can’t be real”, “It looks like it’s been Photo Shopped”, “What is up with the eye makeup?” Rest assured the lemur leaf frog is indeed real, at least for now.

The Origins of the Lemur Leaf Frog:

Not a lot is known about the evolution of this creature; however, it appears to be closely related to the common tree frog with some very distinct differences. The common tree frog is so named because it is found nearly everywhere there are trees. In comparison, the Lemur Leaf Frog is listed with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered. This is a great concern as the lemur leaf frog could easily become extinct. What is the history of this species and what are the issues leading to its potential demise?

Lemur Leaf Frog

Hylomantis lemur, so named by George Albert Boulenger, a renowned Belgian-British zoologist, in 1882 was originally placed in the Phyllomedusa genus. This genus encompasses tree frogs inhabiting Central and South America and contains approximately 30 species.

The lemur leaf frog was moved to the genus Hylomantis, or “rough tree frogs” as noted in Faivovich et al, 2005. This genus contained only 2 species until the lemur leaf frog joined the group, but there are now some other members. Following the change in designation, Hylomantis lemur was renamed Agalychnis lemur. It shares this genus with such unusual species as the Pink-sided Tree Frog, Gliding Tree Frog, Red Eye Tree Frog, and Blue-sided Tree Frog.

What’s in a name?

Endangered Lemur Leaf Frog

Lemur Leaf Frog Photo credit: Adam Fink, Zookeeper, Manager of Reptile and Amphibian Exhibits & Care, Oakland Zoo

Oakland, CA USA (used with permission)

The word lemur is Latin for “ghost” or “spirit”. This frog truly meets that definition. One look at the large eyes, slender body, and coloration is a clue to this frog’s habitat and lifestyle. Tree frogs, by nature, are arboreal (tree dwelling) and most are nocturnal. The lemur leaf frog takes this to a new level. Its eyes, in addition to being enormous compared to relative body size, are super sensitive. The vertical pupils are reminiscent of geckos and some snakes. The relative eye size is also found in the mammal version of the lemur.

These features are commonly found among creatures that hide by day and are active by night. The lemur leaf frog is no exception. Like most other tree frogs makes a diet of insects and other invertebrates.

The Lemur Leaf Frog in Its Habitat

These features are commonly found among creatures that hide by day and are active by night. The lemur leaf frog, like most other tree frogs makes a diet of insects and other invertebrates. This can consist of species found on plants and trees, in the water, and on the fool of the rain forest.

The range of the lemur tree frog is fairly limited and consists of warm region areas. It is found in Costa Rica, Panama, and northern Columbia. While all tree frogs tend to dwell off the ground surface, the lemur leaf frog tends to inhabit shrubby plants in the undergrowth of the canopy regions where it is cooler during the day. It is usually found resting on top of leaf growth, but is also favors the underside of leaves.

How does the frog cling upside down to leaves? Look at the feet. Instead of the normal webbed configuration, this frog has extremely versatile toes much like that of the geckos that are seen clinging to ceilings. The feet are very slender with long toes and extra wide pads at the end that aid in gripping.

Hylomantis lemurThe lemur leaf frog also looks rather frail and thin, however, this can be deceiving. The sheer lack of weight gives the frog a distinct advantage. It can hide unnoticed on a leaf without causing the leaf to look strained and heavy – a dead giveaway for other heavier species.

The lemur leaf frog has many more tricks up its “sleeve”, so to speak.

In addition to the brilliant, almost neon, green pigmentation and unusual lemon yellow colored non-webbed feet this frog has excellent night vision due to the oversized eyes with vertical irises and vivid black rings. The eyes themselves are a silvery to somewhat fawn color during the day. If that’s not intimidating enough for potential predators, the lemur leaf frog transforms at night.

Photo by Brian Gratwicke (Creative Commons).

The legs and toes change from yellow to brown, the back takes on a darker green coloration and where there might have been a few light brownish spots in the green dorsal part of the body, a series of deep red freckles to splotches appear. This provides the perfect camouflage for night hunting scenarios.

In addition to the ability to change color body-wise, the frog’s eyes also change from the luminescent silver of daytime to dark gray, further hiding them.

All frogs have the capability to jump, hop, and leap but this little creature prefers to traverse using a hand-over-hand method. This, presumably, aids in contributing to the stealth mode for finding prey while avoiding detection by potential predators.

Reproductive Habits

Most tree frogs tend to use the ovipositor to lay eggs and then bind the mass by wrapping it in leaf rolls for safety. The lemur leaf frog differs from other groups in that the female deposits the egg mass directly onto the upper side of a leaf and lets nature take its course.

Mating sites are near slow moving water sources in humid forest environments and breeding occurs during the rainy season. Rain washes the egg mass into the water below where the eggs will hatch and the young learn to survive on their own. In the event that rain does not move the egg mass into the water, the emerging tadpoles wiggle their way on to the edge of the leaf where they are able to drop into the water on their own.

lemur leaf frog pictures

From hatching through tadpole stage to adulthood takes between 90 and 150 days. The rate of growth is largely dependent on water temperature – the warmer, the faster the transformation and the better the chances for survival. Hatchlings are extremely vulnerable during this period and not well adapted to fending off predators such as birds, fish, and snakes.

Vocalization

Tree frogs, like most other frogs, are known for making distinctive sounds. These vocalizations are associated with mating activity and used by males to attract females. Each frog species has a unique “call”.

Photo by Brian Gratwicke (Creative Commons).

The bullfrog is one everyone is familiar with its deep croaking sound. Tree frogs tend to have a softer, almost chirping sound. Some are very high pitched and resemble cricket noises, while others have a more melodic cadence.

The lemur leaf tree frog has a distinctive call that consists of a somewhat standard tree frog noise, followed by a chirp, and then a few clicks for good measure.

Threats

The lemur leaf frog’s biggest threats come from disease and deforestation related habitat loss. The fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, causes a serious threat to frogs worldwide by interfering with breathing mechanisms. Frogs “breathe” through their skin as much as through normal breathing; therefore, any blockage to the skin can be devastating to the health of the frog. Common names for this disease are Chytridiomycosis or Chytrid Fungus.

Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis

Photo credit: AJ Cann, Flickr Commons, 09/01/2006The lemur leaf frog may have fended off this insidious disease somewhat due to a unique pigmentation, known as pterorhodin, found in the skin. This adaptation allows the frog to bask in sunlight for long periods of time without the danger of drying out.  In addition, the pigmentation reflects heat off the frog’s surface. Since the fungus is much less infectious at higher temperatures, this reflective action may, in certain cases, prevent the disease from taking root on the actual skin surface.

Still, the fungus has taken a great toll on the species and where commonly found previously throughout Costa Rica, the lemur leaf frog has few strongholds left. Populations in western Panama are also reported to be notably smaller in recent years.

The other factor in the dwindling numbers of the lemur leaf frog is deforestation. This diminutive creature has a very limited habitat and is found only in the rain forest areas of Costa Rica, Panama, and Columbia. Their favorite surroundings are in the shrubby areas below the canopy, close to the water. When the large trees are cut down, the shrubs succumb to the resulting intense sunlight and heat, thereby eliminating the safe haven the lemur leaf frog has long called home.

What is being done to save the Lemur Leaf Frog?

Many institutions have come forth to aid the tiny frog in an attempt to remove it from the Critically Endangered list. Two such organizations with very successful programs are the Oakland Zoo located in Oakland, California in the United States and the Bristol Zoo located within the southwest region of the United Kingdom.

Lemur leaf frog - Hylomantis lemur

Both of these institutions are extremely focused on the conservation of endangered species and have extensive highly successful breeding programs in place.

How can you help?

Nearly every Zoo, Botanical Garden, Nature Preserve, and “Save the …” Foundation has an “adoption” program. Sponsorship of a creature greatly in need of help provides the funding to keep endangered species from the threat of extinction.

In addition, it lets personnel, like Adam Fink (zookeeper in charge of reptiles/amphibians and photographer for the Oakland Zoo) and Nicky Mora (Senior Manager, Marketing/PR, Oakland Zoo) know that their efforts and hard work are truly appreciated.

Visiting your local zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, or nature preserve shows that you care and you never know “who” you may meet there – it could even be a lemur leaf frog!

Alternative Breakfasts from Around the World

Photo By Miia Ranta.

Good morning! Or, should I say in Finnish, “hyvää huomenta”? Morning, and subsequently breakfast, are my favorite times of the day.

Given enough time to indulge in the ritual that is breakfast, I will have had three cups of coffee, and wasted upwards of two hours watching DVR episodes of House Hunters or Gilmore Girls before I knew it. There’s nothing better than getting that precious amount of time, no matter how small, to fuel up and prepare for the day.  When I travel, my favorite moments are usually during breakfast as well—a gossip session with recently reunited friends over tea and muesli can end up taking four hours, if you do it right!

So go ahead, wrap yourself up in your favorite fluffy bathrobe and pour yourself a cup of coffee, because believe it or not, at any point in time, someone in the world is eating breakfast. And as you will see, the definition of breakfast changes with almost every country. Some see it as a sweet start to the day, whereas some prefer something more savory. Some breakfasts are large, involved dishes that fill you up for hours, and some are so small and unassuming

that eating while standing up is not only acceptable, it’s encouraged!

My first breakfast in Finland was a slow, coffee-filled event. The Finns are known for their coffee consumption, as well as their insistence on having “just one more!” cup before you go. The eating itself was substantial, and a little more savory than what I was used to. To start off, we assembled open-faced sandwiches of crisp bread, which were topped with cold cuts, cheese, and slices of cucumber. On the table sat a small plate with slices of hard boiled egg, a carton of plain yoghurt, and a small bowl of redcurrants. Almost every succeeding breakfast was exactly like this one, except for the later inclusion of my favorite breakfast dish, the Karelian pasty, traditionally from the Karelia region of Finland. It  had a potato filling (although many others are filled with rice), and was surrounded by a thin rye crust, pleated around the edges. We spread munavoi, a mixture of butter and hard-boiled egg, on top of the hot pie, and dug in.

Italian Breakfast
Photo By Nouhailler

 

By contrast, Italy treats breakfast in the simplest and sweetest of ways. Breakfast (colazione, in Italian) might even consist of a caffè e latte and little else! Additionally, it is often eaten out at one of many coffee bars, where cappuccino and paste can be conveniently eaten while standing at the bar counter. My Italian breakfast experience involved at-home events, and began with a wonderful pot of coffee made with the moka. Ever heard of breakfast cookies? They’re the Italian specialty, and my favorite part about breakfast! We had several bags of Mulino Bianco brand cookies (Pan di Stelle were my favorites) on the table, next to a jar of Nutella, ready to be eaten with a gusto!

 

German Breakfast
Photo By nayrb7

My friend from Berlin was fascinated by the relatively savory Finnish breakfast, as breakfast in Germany, like Italy, involves food a little on the sweeter side. Since the huge variety of breads (brötchen, or bread rolls) serve as the main vehicle for breakfast, toppings play a vital role in their happy consumption. There are many types of brötchen—white, rye and pumpernickel, sunflower, sesame—and these can be topped with the savory items like cold cuts and cheeses, but butter, jams, honey, and marmalade are also delicious toppers. Hamburg also boasts the Franzbrötchen for breakfast, which is a sweet roll made with honey and cinnamon. Hard boiled eggs show up in this breakfast as well, and if you don’t like sausage, perhaps German breakfast is not right for you! Wide varieties of sausage show up on a German breakfast table, as well as a preparation of minced, raw, spiced pork meat called Mett. Mettbrötchen, bread rolls with Mett spread on top, are delicious, and often served with diced or ringed raw onions.

 

Indian Breakfast - Poon Chani
Photo By ronancrowley

Breakfast in India, as you might guess, varies quite differently with each region. My favorite Indian breakfast, however, includes a savory southern dish called Dosa. Dosa is a fermented crepe-like structure, made from a rice and black lentil batter. It is a common street food, where the batter will be spooned onto a griddle greased with oil or ghee (clarified butter) and spread out evenly until it forms a pancake. Then, once flipped and heated on both sides so that the crust is dry, the pancake is removed from the griddle and served with vegetable or sauce fillings, or with a vegetarian side dish (such as sambar or chutney). The Masala Dosa, more recently invented, was named one of the top ten tastiest foods of the world last year, with good reason—here, the Dosa is stuffed with an onion and potato curry.

If it were up to me, I would have breakfast as every single one of my meals. Even though listing these typical breakfasts in Finland, Italy, Germany, and India doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of delectable and fascinating breakfasts from around the world, these sure give you something to think about.

At least you can be certain that they will get your stomach grumbling! Pardon me while I go on a search for some Mulino Bianco cookies…

Written by Gale Thompson

The Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia/Uncia uncia)

Mysterious and believed by some to be magical, the snow leopard is a powerful hunter which inhabits some of the harshest regions on the planet. With no record of unprovoked attacks on humans and a majestic appearance, this fascinating feline has proved an enigma to scientists for hundreds of years.

The Discovery & Naming of the Snow Leopard

The Snow Leopard was given its first scientific name in 1775 by naturalist Johann von Schreber. Schreber chose the name
Felis uncia based on a 1761 description by the influential French author Georges Buffon, who called the animal ounce. The naming of animals can be a tricky business, and with time, two schools of thought evolved regarding which taxonomic group the snow leopard really fits into. Some believe that the snow leopard is a member of the big cat family, which would make its name Panthera uncia.Others feel that the snow leopard is set apart from felines and call it Uncia uncia.

Endangered Snow Leopard
By Macpedia

According to the latest genetic research into the snow leopard, its closest relative is the tiger with evolutionary divergence occurring around 2 million years ago although fossil evidence of snow leopards from this period is minimal. In the meantime, those who feel that the snow leopard deserves its own category say that it cannot be classified as a Panthera because all of the other felines in that group have something important in common – they can roar, while the snow leopard does not. What is evident is that we still know very little about the snow leopard.

It was as recently as 1970 when George Schaller became the first person to photograph a wild snow leopard in it’s natural habitat. Eleven years later, Rodney Jackson was to perform some ground-breaking studies into this species by fitting radio tracking devices to snow leopards in Nepal, for which he was awarded the Rolex Award for Enterprise. Searching for the snow leopard is challenging and today there are still reliability few photos and records of the snow leopard’s behaviour.

The Habitat & Behaviour of the Snow Leopard 

Snow Leopard Habitat
by Eric Kilby

One of the most significant difficulties faced by those wishing to learn more about the snow leopard and its behaviour is the inhospitable climate and terrain of their preferred habitats. Snow leopards inhabit a 2 million square mile range in the mountainous region of central Asia. Their range stretches through Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kygyztan, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, the Northern Himalyas in India, Bhutan, China and Mongolia. These mountain highlands are rugged with rocky crags and cliffs, and rough scrub-land with some open land, providing a perfect setting for the carnivorous snow leopard to stalk its prey. During the summer months, snow leopards stay altitudes of around 5,000m above sea level, while in the harsher cold of winter, they move down to approximately 3,400m above sea level.

While life in the mountains is a struggle for humans, the snow leopard has physical adaptations which make it possible for it to survive the bitter cold of the peaks. As the top predator of this region, the snow leopard is a built to handle the harsh conditions and to successfully ambush and kill prey species.

The snow leopard has a short but broad nasal cavity, which warms icy air to prevent strain on the lungs while rounded ears prevent heat loss and the one meter long tail is used both to aid balance and like a blanket when sleeping. Standing at around 60cm at the shoulder and between measuring 90 – 115cm from head to rump, the snow leopard weighs in at around 35 – 55kg, slightly smaller than other big cats. Distinction in size between male and females is minimal, with males generally being a little larger than females.  The snow leopard’s famously exquisite thick fur is white on the under-body, while its back is grey, tinged with a hint of yellow and patterned with grey spots which form rosettes while its belly is covered with long white fur. Not only does the snow leopard’s fur provide camouflage, but it also insulates against the cold. The snow leopard’s large paws are also covered in fur to preserve body heat, while the large pads help to distribute the animal’s weight more evenly when travelling across snow.

Snow Leopard Close Up
Photo By Land Rover Our Planet

What really turns this animal into a flawless hunter though, are its long, muscular hind legs and strong chest muscles which make it possible for the snow leopard to jump distances of up to 15 metres. Masters of stalking and attack, snow leopards are capable of taking down prey of as much as three times their own body weight. Blue sheep, marmot, ibex, game birds such as partridge, and hare are all staples of the snow leopards diet, and as opportunistic killers, they have also been known to kill domesticated livestock. Feeding on a large kill over the course of three to four days, and making a kill roughly every week and a half, these big cats have also been found to supplement their diet with large amounts of plant material. No one is entirely sure why they do this, although it has been suggested that grasses and other foliage may provide vital nutrients, aid digestion or eliminate internal parasites.

As mentioned previously, knowledge about the behaviour of the snow leopard is limited. Additionally, much of the data available is from studies on captive snow leopards, which may have altered their behaviour due to their close proximity and interaction of humans. It is clear that snow leopards are a solitary species and radio tracking studies have shown that they are capable of travelling immense distances. Active throughout the day, but with peaks at dawn and dusk, snow leopards have extensive home territories. It is thought that snow leopards are not intensely territorial, and these ranges may overlap. Urine scent marking is used by both males and females to identify their presence to other individuals and to attract the other sex during the mating season (January).  After mating, females and males go their separate ways with the cubs being born in March and staying with the mother until the follow mating season.

Persecution & Protection of the Snow Leopard

Witnessing a snow leopard in the wild is a rare sight and one that would leave anyone in awe. However, the glamorous beauty of this species is one of the factors which has led to its downfall.

According to the IUCN Red List, there are between 4,000 and 6,000 snow leopards remaining in the wild, and they are classified as Endangered. Other experts are less optimistic and figure that there could be as few as 2,000 adult snow leopards left. The unfortunate truth is, that like much of the world’s fascinating fauna, the snow leopard has been persecuted to a point which will be difficult to return from.

Traditional Eastern medicine has long prescribed snow leopard body parts as a cure for joint pain, kidney problems and impotency, while in the Western world, snow leopard fur was once considered the height of luxury and elegance. Today, illegal trade in snow leopard parts and fur is still at a critical point, with 60 skulls confiscated in Chinese markets between 2003-2008. Prosecutions for these crimes are often muddied by the fact that traders may claim that the items are antiquities, meaning that charges cannot be brought against them.

Snow leopard in the Altai Mountain Region
Photo By Land Rover Our Planet

Another major threats faced by the snow leopard is habitat loss, as the human population grows and once open plains are transformed into farm and herd-lands. This loss of habitat impacts on prey species, diminishing their numbers and forcing the snow leopard to seek other sources of food. Livestock become the victims of the snow leopard’s voracious hunger, and struggling farmers seek retribution by hunting the hunter and killing them. The growing mining industry has also created new issues  as chemicals and explosives used to extract minerals cause environmental disturbance effecting both the snow leopards and their prey.

The situation for the snow leopard seems bleak, however there are a number of conservation agencies who are working hard to change the conclusion of the so-called mountain ghost’s story.  The snow leopard’s unique position in the ecosystem of the Central Asian Highlands means that the survival of this species will have a beneficial effect on other fauna in the region.

This means that the snow leopard is considered to be a “flagship species” – an iconic animal which can be used to draw people’s attention to the bigger picture in terms of conservation.

As more people learn about the work that can be done to save the snow leopard, by protecting its habitat and helping those who live  in the region, there is hope that we will not have to say goodbye to this species.

Lalibela Rock Churches in Ethiopia

A vacation is a vacation. You see the attractions, you swim, and you fish. What if you could take a vacation that changed you? What if you took a vacation that meant something? Many people come away from the Lalibela rock churches in Ethiopia feeling just like that.

Lalibela is little more than its rock churches but for so many that is plenty. It is considered a holy place and the monasteries still carry the tales. The streets are unpaved and there are little to no motorized vehicles. There are no gas stations or supermarkets inside the center of the city.The population is a scant 9000 people and over 1000 of them are priests. The churches, the priests, and the religious festivals circulate the biblical atmosphere.

The environment breeds religious epiphany and life changing thoughts. The simplistic life of the area brings a certain peace and inner tranquility.

The area, once called Roha, was named after King Lalibela of the 12th century. King Lalibela was a shrewd politician and a beloved prophet. His reign was threatened and he sought the protection of the influential Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Lalibela Ethiopia rock churches

During the time he was seeking the acceptance and protection of the church he claims to have had a dream where God called him to Heaven. While there he witnessed great churches and upon awakening he commissioned the creation of specific stone chiseling tools. He set to work explaining to his builders exactly what he saw and set them to excavating it.

The churches were chiseled from the living rock base of the mountains that spotted the area. The King hoped to win the churches approval with the unique rock churches but he also sought to make a religious mecca comparable to Jerusalem. People were required to make a trip to the holy land of Jerusalem once in their life. Lalibela hoped to make a New Jerusalem, not to take the place of the holy land but to aid those who could not make the lengthy trip.

When you think of a rock church there is no way you would imagine these churches. They are completely carved from rock and stone. The inside has intricate designs over the arches, walls and windows. There are 11 of these rock churches and the largest is 40 feet high. The intricate designs are still visible and much of the original markings are near pristine.

The work involved and how it got done is mystifying. Similar to the Egyptian pyramids, it is a mystery. Local legend has it that each night when the workers would sleep angels would come and take over the process. One of the churches contains a stone pillar with writing from the King explaining the secrets of the churches excavation. It stays covered with cloths. No one is permitted to look at it but the priests.

The King dedicated 20 years of his life to the churches. After which he reported a religious epiphany and abdicated his throne. He chose to live his life as a hermit He spent the rest of his days in self introspection, eating roots and vegetables. Because of this life change and the fact that his stone churches became such a place of religious importance, he is considered a saint to this day.

While the area is mostly undisturbed and rustic, there are still a few places to stay and eat while you are visiting. The surrounding areas house the hotels where you are able to hire a guide for your visit to the churches if you desire. The guides will take you through each of the churches and explain their heritage, history and significance.

Lalibela rock churches in Ethiopia
Photo by Marc Veraart

The Lalibela World Cultural Center is near the Tukul Village Hotel. It serves as a protective agency for the preservation of the churches but also as a educational center for the tourists. Performances like circuses and theater acts are staged throughout the year to help both tourists and natives understand other cultures than their own. Eventually, they center plans to ass a library for local students.

There is a sizeable museum located near the main entrance to some of the churches. It is filled with ancient manuscripts, vested gold thousands of years old, crosses, crowns, pendants and paintings all gathered to ensure the stories of the people and King Lalibela survive.

Dining in Lalibela is an interesting experience. The local eateries serve traditional foods indigenous to the area along with an Ethiopian honey-wine called Tej. Most of the restaurants have in-house dancers and entertainment. There is a coffee making ceremony significant to the area that performers often call patrons on stage to help with, adding a special touch to the evening.

This place, the churches and the people, have a special effect on people. It’s unexpected and benevolent and well worth the trip. You may think you’re going for the history and significance but you may have a higher calling.

Aurora Borealis aka The Northern Lights

Sure. You’ve heard of the Aurora Borealis, or northern lights, but have you seen it? If you have a bucket list make sure this one is on it. It’s that spectacular.

The northern lights are a natural lightshow that occurs in the northern altitudes, the higher the better. Charged solar wind particles floating in the earth’s atmosphere collide with atoms and cause the display of colorful lights that spread through the skies at high altitudes.The exhibit is nothing short of stunning and never fails to take your breath away each and every time it happens. It’s ethereal, other worldly and has the distinct ability to make us realize how very small we are in this big universe.

Northern Lights Tromso
Photo By Moyan Bren – Creative Commons

The best viewing times are from September through March under clear, dark skies from 5 p.m. till 2 a.m.. The further you are from artificial light the better chance you will have of being able to see clearly.  Keep in mind, December through February bring the longest nights. That gives you even more chances to get a good look.

You can see the northern lights from the high altitude places in the world. The very best views are in the auroral oval which sits above the Arctic and sub-Arctic. Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Canada are all easily accessible (relatively) destinations in the auroral oval.

There are many hotels, resorts, festivals and tours in these places dedicated to the natural phenomenon and enjoying it to the fullest. Check out any of the destinations below to see the northern lights in style.

Northern Lights In Sweden

The Swedish provinces near the Norwegian border are some of the very best destinations in the world to view the northern lights. Abisko National Park is a Swedish treasure that was preserved in order to keep a percentage of the unscathed Nordic territories in pristine condition for research and study. Hence, the Abisko Scientific Research Station was developed and it is here, at the world-renowned Abisko Sky Station, that one of the best sightings of the northern lights in the world happens.

Abisko is smack dab in the middle of the auroral oval. There is just no missing the northern lights here. It also helps that the air is so fresh and clear and there is hardly ever a cloud in the sky. These conditions make it possible to see some action out of the aurora borealis practically every night.

The sky station also uses amplifiers during the evening. Strange sounds occur during the aurora borealis which are hard to determine but these “voices from space” make the show that much cooler. Inside the sky station you’ll find special exhibits and displays to help you better understand how the northern lights happen and what they are. Many northern lights vacationers watch the amazing eruptions turn to the calmer, pulsating shimmers and then enjoy a stay at the Ice Hotel; the world’s largest hotel made of ice and snow.

The Ice Hotel offers guided tours each night to various spots to witness the show.

Northern Lights In Iceland

Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland is a perfect spot to see the northern lights in all their splendor. It is a popular travel destination in itself because of the amazing landscape. Mother Nature pulled out all the stops in this place, and that’s before you see the northern lights each night. There are volcanoes and lava fields near glaciers, waterfalls and cascades. The area is startlingly full of nature’s most amazing details.

Aurora Borealis Northern Lights
Photo by Image Editor – Creative Commons

The nearby fishing village of Budir has a secluded hotel with a vantage point to clearly see the northern lights each night. Hotel Budir has daytime activities like snowmobiling, 4-wheeling and skiing but if you plan to take advantage of those get there before solstice, when the polar lights occur, the sun doesn’t rise till 11.40am and is gone again by 3.15pm.

Imagine how amazing it is to watch the aurora borealis from your own private room each night. That would be a vacation worth waiting for.

Northern Lights In Norway

There is never any guarantee of seeing the northern lights anywhere, your best bet of seeing them in Iceland is between December and April when the days are longer but the nights are dry and cloudless. Earlier in the winter season brings a lot of wet weather and a lesser chance of active aurora borealis occurrences. Technically, you can see the northern lights all over Norway. However, even here some places are better than others. Lofoten, Norway and all the way up the coastal North Cape is the best place in Norway to see them.

Another really cool option in Norway is to check out the lights from aboard the cruise ship, Hurtigruten, which travels the coast from Bergen to Kirkenes. Not only are you able to check out an unobstructed view of the magnificent north lights but you can also enjoy all the other shipboard activities.

Northern Lights In Finland

Lapland, known as The North of Finland, has long been held as a perfect spot to see the northern lights. It’s also a great place to check out the phenomenon of the polar lights, or twilight, as its also called. It happens in the Arctic Circle during the winter months when the sun doesn’t cross the horizon. The barely filtering sunlight in those few hours seems magical.

While you’re waiting for night to bring the northern lights in Lapland there are lots of other things to do. Rent a log cabin or a heated glass igloo. Private saunas are available to heat up those chilled bones after aurora watching in the deep, cold night.

Northern Lights In Canada

Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada is an excellent viewing option on this side of the Arctic Circle. Canada is at the southernmost tip of the oval and some say gets the least clear view. It is easier and cheaper to get to than the northern destinations.

The amazing array of colors still ribbon across the sky. You get the same wide-eyed amazement of seeing something so brilliantly breath taking appear before you. You lose a little detail and the sightings are a tad farther between but for many that is a small price to pay.

There are several tours and many hotels and restaurants. There are local attractions and activities for fun during the daylight hours.

The northern lights are something too few of us get to see. An opportunity to see this spectacle is an opportunity to witness the wonders of nature and observe a miracle of the universe. This vacation will make memories unlike any other.

A brief history of Cormorant fishing

Since the dawn of civilization there have been two vocations that man came to rely upon. One of these being hunting and the other is fishing. Up to the discovery of agriculture man’s main food source came from either hunting wild animals or from fishing their waters. Primitive settlements were built around a lake or along a running river, this due to the constant source of water and of food from fishing.

This is A brief history of Cormorant fishing

Around the 6th century AD, a most interesting way of fishing was developed in Japan. This type of fishing involved the use of a Cormorant whereby the bird would be tied with a rope and it would also have a small ring around its neck, which the fisherman relied upon to pull the bird

Cormorant Fishing in Guilin
Cormorant Fishing in Guilin, Photo by Ndecam – Creative Commons.

 

back into his boat after it went off to catch its fish. The fact that the Cormorant had a ring around its neck mean that it could only eat small fish and the fisherman would be left with the bigger fish that the cormorant couldn’t get down its gullet. Although this practice was founded in Japan, it was picked up by Chinese and Korean fishermen and by the 7th century Chinese fishermen were using cormorant fishing techniques in the north and central parts of China.

Evidence has also been found to sustain that around the 5th century in what is now known to be Peru fishermen used cormorants to fish their too, making this one of the most enigmatic ways of fishing on the planet.

Because Native Americans in North and South America originated in Asia, from where they migrated 16 thousand years ago, there might be a possibility that this type of fishing be as old as that, although there has been no substantial proof to support this theory. Something to think about, isn’t it?In Europe, around the 14th century, cormorant fishing had developed independently from the Chinese and Japanese but due to the quick development of industry and improved fishing this type of fishing was soon abandoned, leaving it present only as a tourist attraction in many places, for example Macedonia, and France.

So what’s going on now?

Nowadays, cormorant fishing is a lost art. Fishermen consider cormorant fishing to be nothing more than a useless practice. Why would they waste their time fishing with a bird when they can fish industrial quantities with a big hauler? Well, imagine seeing a bird dive up to 100 meters into water and then emerging with a fish in its beak! That’s something really beautiful to witness.

Cormorant fishing is still alive in Japan in the sense that besides its touristic attraction purpose, fishermen inside the isles of Japan still practice this tradition. Due to Japan having some remote regions, which are hard to access with normal means of transportation, cormorant fishing remained the main food source for small villages deep inside mainland Japan.

But the cormorant population started to diminish in the 20th century, due to the practice of cormorant fishing being pretty much abolished, but in later years Wildlife protection initiatives have started to fill up the gaps in the much needed cormorant population.

Cormorants are not pretty birds, in fact, they are amongst the ugliest creatures you can lay your eyes on, but they are of a true value when it comes to fishing. Cormorant fishing in Europe is a dying tradition, which right now is only kept alive to serve as a tourist attraction.

Cormorant Fishing in China
Photo by HBarrison- Creative Commons

What can you do to help keep cormorant fishing alive?

Well, if you enjoy fishing, then why not give this special type of fishing a try if you ever visit Japan or many of the tourist attractions across Europe and Asia? There’s not much training involved either as you don’t actually have to train the bird, it’s their nature to fish; cormorants know how to fish better than any other bird on the planet.

To sum it up, cormorant fishing is an amazing type of fishing that man has used for thousands of years, and is still as fascinating today as it’s ever been considering our developed world. It is part of various cultures, but unfortunately is a dying art. If you want to help preserve cormorant fishing and those that rely on it then do you bit, raise awareness and pledge your support.

Why not like this article on Facebook, share it your friends on twitter and spread the word about the ancient art of cormorant bird fishing…