Wednesday, March 7, 2012


 A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO A NEIGHBOR CAME BY TO DROP OFF SOME GOAT CHEESE. We trade wine, usually chokecherry or wild rosehip for his incredible cheeses. As he was leaving we noticed a commotion up in a big ponderosa tree. It was a nice sunny day, and the little birds had been active at the feeder. But now the chickadees and nuthatches, and even the downy woodpeckers were raising a fuss high up in the tree over what? We had to look, really look to see a Western Screech Owl trying to catch a nap. He was about as wide as he was tall, maybe 8 inches, all fluffed out, doing his best to ignore the fray. Western Screech Owls are amazing little owls, and I seldom see them, though one winter I did see one down by the creek catch a fish in a shallow pool. He almost got to eat that fish until the crows and magpies came to harass him. What’s a guy to do when he’s picked on by big and little alike?

The owl one is most likely to see here in Story, Wyoming, is the Great Horned Owl. Like the little Screech Owl, they also fish when the creek is shallow from winter freeze-up. And this time of year, when we are all becoming weary of winter, they court as well. In the early evenings one can hear their hoot-hoot-hooting through the woods. First a low hooting, then off somewhere else, a high hoot will answer back. Owls nest early, maybe so they won’t have to compete for nesting sites with other birds of prey, like hawks and eagles.

Please note. A Snowy Owl was spotted at the north end of Lake DeSmet, ten miles from Buffalo, Wyoming.

This time of year when we are months from both the harvest and the sowing of our gardens, I would like to offer a couple of recipes.

1.  A bundle of chokecherry and/or wild plum twigs - if you are getting cabin-fever like the rest of us, grab your pruning shears and go outside. Trim off a handful of sucker-branches from chokecherry or plum bush. If you don’t have any wild around, domestic is fine. Go back inside and whittle off the tender bark and boil it up in a half gallon of water. This alone makes a fine tea for lung congestion, and besides, it’s a pretty color.

2.  Strain the bark and add 2 cups of dried rosehips, 1 cup of dried elderberries, a stick of cinnamon and a thumb-sized peeled piece of ginger. Simmer all that up for about an hour. Strain then….

3.  Add honey to taste. You can add brandy too but it’s not necessary. This syrup will sooth a scratchy throat and keep for a long while in the frig.
 A lot of people grow culinary sage in their herb gardens and then never do a thing with it. I think they feel like it is too strong an herb, but not so! I grow as many varieties as I can because the deer won’t eat it and that’s a miracle around these parts. Here are two things one can do with sage.

Sage is a wonderful herb for thrush or a sore throat and surprisingly pleasant to drink. Just steep some dried leaves in boiling water for a few minutes, and add a little honey. Sip that and your throat will feel better.

 Sauté in olive oil some pork chops or chicken breasts over medium heat, turning until browned. Add a big ol’ squashed garlic clove, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and about a tablespoon of dried sage that you have crumbled between your hands to release the aroma. You may add a touch of Marsala or white wine, or not. Cover and cook until done. Quick and easy!

 If you have dried herbs to see you through the winter, be generous with yourself and use them up! They are meant to be used and replaced on a yearly basis for the best cooking results. I remember after my grandmother died we inherited numerous little red and white tins of herbs that sat around for YEARS! Maybe I thought I could keep her memory alive by keeping them around, but they were dust for cooking.

Well, that is what I have to say about herbs for March.
Courtney Caplan
Magpie Potions