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PROBE: Aug. 9, 2001

August 09, 2001

QUESTION: I am a single mother with four kids. I was on the Imperial Irrigation District's "bill-averaging program." I got my settlement bill from IID and I don't know what to do.

I owe $800. IID said I can pay the past due bill at $141 month. However, my current bill is over $300. I can't pay off my bill-averaging balance while I pay my big summer bills. I have a cut-off notice. Help! — Overwhelmed, El Centro

Call Sherry McDonald at IID. She has a deal for you. She said she will accept $300 a month to pay off your current bill and as payment toward your old bill-averaging account.

Since your monthly bills are running close to $300 a month, you won't make much of a dent in your past due bill until the weather turns cooler.

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We think you're NOT alone in being overwhelmed by a big settlement bill. IID is revising its bills for its bill-averaging customers. The new bills will show consumers if they are gaining or losing ground on their accounts.

A BIG CAT — I think I know what those two guys saw in the brush in the New River bottom near the Rio Bend golf course. I saw it, too, and I thought it was a small mountain lion.

When I told my veterinarian about it, he got out his books and now we are convinced it was a jaguarondi. That's a small, wild cat that ranges in northern Mexico and southern Arizona. It probably wandered in from Mexico. — Old Desert Hand, Brawley

Or maybe it was a jackalope. That's a cross between a jack rabbit and an antelope. Those are more often seen in and around Ocotillo, often after a visit to the Lazy Lizard Saloon.

People see strange things in the desert west of the Valley's irrigated area. We've learned not to discount their stories.

When one PROBE reader reported seeing a huge bird out there, we checked our desert sources and learned there were not one, but two big birds, ostriches, thriving in the desert near Ocotillo.

We don't remember if the birds escaped from an ostrich farm or if the farmer turned them loose when he decided to get out of the business.

A FRENCH SOUP — I am Greek. I first learned of verdolagas when I was a girl from the workers who helped us run our ranch. The workers would dig furrows for the irrigation water that germinated the seeds.

Actually, the plant is a succulent. My favorite use of it is in salads. Be sure to trim away the thicker stems, keeping just the tiny tender stems.

The season has started. In the mornings, you can see whole fields of it in bloom with tiny yellow blossoms. You can buy it in Calimex and Wal-Mart in Mexicali.

In France they make a soup out of it and serve it in the best restaurants. — Greek, Calexico

Of course, the French invented the concept of "less is more."

Give a down and out French cook a big wharf rat and he'll cook it up in a brown gravy, give it a fancy French name and tourists will come from near and far to pay exorbitant prices for a plate of it served with crusty French bread, and maybe a soup or salad of verdolagas on the side.

Up in Northern California, snails are as ubiquitous as cock roaches in Imperial County. To most Californians, snails are just a gardening problem.

A Frenchman would gather up the snails, steam them in a pan of water and serve the escargot on a silver platter. If you're going to serve a garden pest to guests, do it with style.

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