This lovely lass is Tehya, a one year old Puma concolor (aka American Cougar or mountain lion) currently residing at the zoo. A large new outdoor exhibit with lots of high rocky outcroppings and beautiful plantings is her new not-so-big backyard. Ideally she would like a mate and about 200 square miles. Tehya came last fall, along with another kitten, from Wyoming Fisheries and Wildlife after their mothers were shot (two different moms; they’re not sisters but raised together, they have that affection for one another). They do enjoy their new space; there’s a lot of running, jumping, bird chasing and contented sunbathing. They seem especially invested in tearing up giant mats of newly planted sod and basically messing up the horticultural efforts of the zoo. To me, there’s a certain justice in that.
Pumas are part of a vicious cycle that ends at the zoo. They become a nuisance to us after we encroach on their territory. If the current trends of persecution and habitat degradation continue they will go on the Endangered Species List as “vulnerable.” Currently they are plentiful but decreasing in population size. In California it is legal to shoot any mountain lion that is deemed a threat to people. This highly adaptive cat, once common in every major habitat type of the Americas, was virtually eradicated over 200 years in the entire Eastern United States. The remaining few individuals east of the Mississippi (primarily the Florida Panther, numbering about 100) are designated as critically endangered, at a local level.
To me this is the perfect learning opportunity. We know, from our own history, what has happened to these animals as we cut down forests for our towns and cities in half the country. As developers build more and bigger houses, a serious turf war escalates. We still have an opportunity to consider how we want to respond to their needs in the Western United States, keeping in mind that the plight of one species is the plight of many- and ultimately, ourselves. In the meantime, I try to handle critical comments about zoos keeping beautiful animals like Tehya in enclosures and Tehya, frisky and in her prime, eyeballs toddlers with a stare that makes mothers nervous.
FAST AND FANCY (and fairly healthy) POTATOES ANNA
Okay- here’s another one of my original recipes that works every time and makes me think I would definitely be a better professional chef than movie director.
YOU WILL NEED:
Enough new tiny fingerling potatoes to feed your family. A quart berry box will do for four. Maybe two. We’re talking small- the little teeny oblong red and white potatoes you see this time of year at your local farmers market.
Half and Half
Really good, very light olive oil. I’ve said many times: don’t skimp on the quality of your oil.
Salt, fresh ground pepper, small clove garlic through small hole garlic press.
The best Parmesan Reggiano cheese you can buy- preferably a chunk you can grate at the moment. Nothing in a green cardboard can.
In a skillet, pour five, six teaspoons of olive oil. Enough to thinly cover the bottom.
Slice those potatoes 1/4 inch thick- no more, no less. But don’t bother peeling them.
Heat the oil on medium high heat, with a lid (no spatter). Add potatoes, salt, pepper, garlic.
Saute until tender and slightly brown. They won’t brown a lot with the lid on but that’s okay. I actually use a fairly small, deeper skillet so I can give them a flip without removing the lid- again, no spatter.
Turn the heat on low, remove lid, add just enough half and half to almost cover the potatoes. Use your judgment here. Simmer on low without the lid for about 3 minutes to reduce half and half. If you over did it, you can always sprinkle on just a smidge of Wondra or flour but, heaven forbid, don’t clump things up.
Remove from heat and pour potatoes into a shallow baking dish. I use a pie plate. You want a layer that’s not more than two potatoes deep, pretty shallow.
Grate the Parmesan, generously, over the potatoes. Put under the broiler until bubbly and brown on top. Watch them closely, because it just takes a few minutes.
Serve with a spatula. Lordy, are these delicious. They are like glorified potatoes au gratin, from scratch, in less than 15 minutes. Yup. I would show you a picture except we ate them all really fast. With a salad of fat sliced heirloom tomatoes.