Wednesday, January 28, 2009

around the web

Interested in a shotgun with Damascus or twist steel barrels? Lots of information found here. Safe, safe for black powder, or dangerous, some beautiful barrels (scroll down for pictures).

From the Gun Nut blog at Field and Stream, breaking clay birds with a bass casting outfit. Another post there contains a Youtube clip of a program featuring lots of slow motion photography of shotgunning.

A ten worst films list for 2008. This one is notable because of the common sense approach. I quote: "Worst lists are somewhat disingenuous. The truly worst films of the year are always the cheapie slasher flicks and pretentious independent films Blockbuster only buys a single copy of. But my definition of worst is 'worst experience', as in crushing disappointment, as in There’s A Special Place In Hell For All Involved And We Call It 'The George Lucas Wing.'" Found via Bore Patch, which seems like a pretty good blog.

Page for a rescue Chessie which was turned over to a shelter for knocking over a toddler and chasing a kitten- in the embedded video the foster folks spend the last thirty seconds putting a cat in front of and on the dog while he holds a sit and tries to figure out what the game is, without chasing it. "So there! dog abandoning feckless people!" is how I interpret that. Pretty dog, too.

Last, the Smithsonian Magazine now has a food blog.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bread, and no-knead

I recently re-discovered in my recipe stash Mark Bittman's directions for no-knead bread, which apparently was quite the talk of the (foodie end of the) internet for a while. So a couple of years after printing off the directions I managed to get around to making it. Basically, 3 cups of flour, a tiny amount of yeast (1/4 teaspoon), water, and salt and let the mixture sit for a day, turn it out, shape minimally, let rise again, then dump in a smoking hot (450 F) preheated covered pot, bake for thirty minutes, remove cover, and finish baking.

So, notes- the dough is wet, really, really wet. I first made this on a moderately humid (+/- 20%) Southwestern winter day and it was still wet. The whole bit of forming the loaf didn't go nearly as smoothly (no pun intended) as I would have liked. Also, given that the interior of my house won't reach 70 F., the temperature recommended for the first rise, for a couple of months, I let the dough go twenty-four hours before handling. That was about the right time period, as witnessed by the texture of the dough and wealth of bubbles on its surface as I turned it out after the initial rise.

My 10 inch camp oven is a little big and so the loaf came out a bit flat. Upon tasting, I found the bread a bit bland (and I don't usually salt heavily). Increasing the salt to 2 1/2 teaspoons from the recommended 1/2 teaspoon didn't hurt subsequent loaves rising and improved the flavor considerably.

The wheat germ I used to keep the dough from sticking to the towel also ended up in the loaf, as the dough folded over on itself as I put it in the really hot dutch oven. It was a bit unsightly running through the bread, so use flour if you want the interior to look a bit better.

Later, I tried making a loaf using a recipe and a half of dough. This resulted in a taller loaf, but the center didn't get quite as done as I would have preferred. That loaf could have gone a bit longer in the oven without over browning, though.

As a technique for baking, a covered pot really makes a difference. I took another favorite bread recipe for the bread machine and, after the machine had worked the dough through the first rise, conducted the second rise in a bowl and then dumped it into the preheated Dutch oven. Here's the loaf-

The dough not being as moist as the no-knead bread recipe, the crust wasn't as crisp, but it was much better than what the bread machine or my oven usually turns out. Of course, a covered baking dish for bread is nothing new, witness cloches. I'm sure they work well, but my camp oven is a lot more versatile and I've made loaves now in corning ware and other vessels. Covered and preheated seem to be the keys.

In the end, this is really good bread and well worth essaying on your part. I can't imagine a more accessible recipe (especially for folks unused to baking) that provides such a nice result for so little effort.

A last note, Jim Lahey, the baker who did a demo for the New York Times and provided them with a recipe has also adapted the recipe for pizza dough.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hunting, perception, and semantics

I've been thinking about some of the terms used with respect to hunting and the connotation of those terms depending upon the audience. Specifically, "sport hunting", "meat hunting", and "trophy hunting". A recent post on Querencia linked to a not very good article and a discussion of the impact of hunting on animal populations, specifically the predation of the largest animals by human hunters, as opposed to the oldest, weakest animals which other predators key on. That sort of discussion once again brings into play the terminology applied to hunting, particularly big game hunting. I'll offer some definitions as to how I consider the terms and as to how they seem to be understood by some others.

"Sport hunting"- to a hunter, hunting for any reason other than the necessity of survival. No implication as to whether or not you consume the meat. Probably 99% of the hunting undertaken in this country today, even if the meat is pretty welcome to many or most of the hunters. To a non-hunter, this phrase seems to imply hunting solely for amusement and leaving the animal lying.

"Meat hunting"- growing up, that meant just trying to fill your tag or your limit, taking the first (legal) animal found and perhaps treading on the bounds of ethics. It was not a particularly positive term, as I recall it. An example would be shooting a covey of quail on the ground as they ran down a bar ditch, as opposed to flushing the birds and shooting one or two on the wing. Efficient, but not sporting. It now seems to mostly suggests hunting for the meat rather than for antlers, perhaps putting in for cow or doe tags, and it seems more acceptable to non-hunters, who'll typically respond along the lines of "at least you're eating the meat". I never thought I'd describe myself as a meat hunter as often as I do nowadays.

"Trophy hunting"- that term really draws some ire or disdain. Non-hunters (and some hunters) seem to mostly connote this term with hunting only for antlers or a mount and generally act as though it excludes using the meat. In "Hunting Trophy Deer", John Wooters describes it thus:
"Trophy hunters can actually be extremely ethical, raising their personal level of challenge by seeking and taking only the largest and most wary of animals, imposing upon themselves an ethical limitation similar to that brought about by using a primitive weapon."

Wooters goes on to describe the practice as refraining from killing any animal that does not meet a personal definition of trophy, whether that be a certain measurement, or number of points, or characteristics that demonstrate that the animal is mature or even aged. Necessarily, such a limitation reduces take and, if followed, requires more effort and less trigger pulling on the part of the hunter. That's also how I generally think of the term. I'll note that most animals that qualify as a "trophy" have spent at least a couple of years breeding and, contra the Newsweek article discussed at Querencia (but as mentioned in comments there) have already made the biggest part of their contribution to the gene pool. Wooters made this point back in 1977.

Regardless, the term "trophy hunting" is likely permanently debased by shortcuts, canned hunts, limited access private hunts (that substitute landowners' very careful management and very limited take resulting in very large racks on deer and elk and big whopping fees for hunters' skill) and a certain subset of hunters for which the rack is the thing, rather than the method used to take it.

Personally, I do a bit of trophy hunting. I'd really like to get a big mule deer, and, in hunting for such I've made up my mind to limit myself to a big buck, tall antlers well outside his ears. That would probably mean a 28" spread or better and such a buck would perhaps be the last big mule deer I'd take unless I came across an obviously old buck on the decline. I have yet to even see such a buck on public land (outside of parks). As a reflection for my desire for such a deer, I put in for tags in a unit that is not that easy to draw for but that has some really big bucks, if not too many deer. At the same time I try to draw cow elk tags for meat, lessening the impact of lowering my chances for deer meat.

If anyone wonders at why a person would seek a big set of horns, I highly recommend reading David Petersen's "Racks", apparently available only used, but very cheaply. He does a good job of explaining mankind's fascination with cervids' head gear down through history, as well as explaining just how remarkable antlers are, biologically speaking.

UPDATE- in case anyone might miss it in the comments, Matt Mullenix provides a link to a post on his excellent Waypoints where he takes issue with the term "sport hunting" and articulately describes the problems with it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

only one

Well, if you're only going to get one duck in a morning's hunt, it's pretty hard to beat a nice big mallard drake that decoys in and turns out to be flashing some jewelry.

Other highlights of the morning were an amazing moonset, for which I had forgotten the camera, lots of sky-high snow geese, cranes, being buzzed by a pair of widgeon traveling at least 60 mph before the shooting started, and the previous night's spinach and onion quiche for lunch.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Duck, Duck, Goose!!!

As of yesterday, this blog is two years old as I figure it. I set up the page in December but didn't get going until January and, since then, I've managed to more or less meet my goal of posting once a week on average. That's not very prolific, but it's often enough that I have to work at it a bit. In any event, the first post of that New Year was mostly about waterfowl hunting and, as it turns out, that's still what I'm going to talk about.

'09 has already seen a couple of days spent chasing ducks. A new setup on the first hunt, trying a slightly different bend in the river, brought the birds in. Two bunches were really big by my standards- twenty or so mallards. The first of those came in just as I'd gotten up and headed away from cover to clear flotsam off the cords on a couple of decoys. Fortunately, I saw the birds when they were still well out and was able to huddle against the cut bank of the river, rather than getting caught out in the wide open. They swirled and circled and chattered and came right on in. A few minutes after the first big bunch another decoyed nearly the same way and a fine fat drake mallard fell out of each. Three drakes, all shot feet down and decoying, made for successful morning as I count things.

Sorry for the thumb in the frame on this one. I put the photo up anyway because I envision the expression on the dog's face to be something along the lines of "I'm fighting current after a sixty-yard water retrieve and he's taking pictures". I also admire the wake Booker can cut through the current when he's working at it.

In any event, taking advantage of time off and heading back out the next day, we found our spot taken by earlier-rising hunters and headed up river for Plan B. The setup looked good to me, a nice pocket off the main channel where a side channel returned, but the ducks just didn't like it, except for one single that managed to fly through the pattern unharmed.

Fortune ultimately shone her face on us, though. The area I hunt has a short dark goose season and a population of Hi-Line giant Canada Geese. The limit is one bird and you have to get a permit in addition to your regular license before you can hunt. Talking with A, I opined that if we got permits, we'd never see a goose (based upon previous experience) but that if we didn't take the trouble to go by the Game and Fish office for the license, at least one bunch of honkers would fly by within range. Some years I have geese come by, some years they even come by in range, but geese coming by in range, during the season, while permitted (it used to be a draw for a tag) requires an awful lot of luck. Nevertheless, having a bit of time in the afternoon, we made the trip and picked up permits.

So, with the ducks not liking the setup even after the spread had been tweaked and the morning's flight seeming to slow, I was watching a bunch of snow geese in the near distance (and well above range) when I heard Canadas somewhere down river. Flying up river. Toward us. Amazingly enough, a group of the big birds flew right over our location, only thirty feet or so up. Close enough that there wasn't any worry about not having thrown any goose loads in the bag that morning.

That's my first giant Canada goose and one of fewer than a half dozen Canadas I've taken to date. Spectacular, beautiful big bird.

That afternoon, I set to plucking. Note- only one pellet hole in the breast. If you're really good, you don't shoot up the eatin' parts :)

Booker got a little close checking out the process. He considers all birds to be his property.

Long way around that dude and lots of down to get off-

Guess he's never going to get done with that bird-

5 lb, 14 oz. plucked, dressed, & ready for the table.

So, the question presents itself- cassoulet? Roast goose? I know a very good red wine is in the future to celebrate this good fortune, I'll have to spend some thought and some time, browsing Hank's archives and other places looking for recipes before settling on the exact method of preparation.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Dinner blog

So, what's for dinner?

Well, I was just in South Texas and courtesy of my Uncle's generosity and my cousin's good shooting, along with a little help from my Dad and myself, we got on the right side of a few quail. Those tasty little guys are best, to my mind, fried, so Sunday dinner was reminiscent of flavors of my childhood. For a long time, I considered cream gravy to be "quail gravy". I don't shoot many quail any more and fry food even less, so I was gratified when everything came out ok, if not quite exactly how I was aiming for.

Black-eyed peas, greens with tomatoes (& garlic & wine, not quite Southern, but good), rice, cream gravy, fried quail and a homemade loaf.

What to drink with such S. Texas fare? Why not a crisp mild prosecco? Not exactly southern, coming from the Veneto region of Italy, but a nice foil for the generally mild flavors. Besides, something stronger than ice tea is called for when facing the prospect of going back to work after the long weekend.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Food for the New Year

I hope all of you have had your black eye peas by now.

Posole is a New Year's and Chrismas tradition along the border and in New Mexico. While I've had some very nice versions and I've always enjoyed it, a couple of years ago my friend Matt made a batch and served it with all the trimmings so that you made your own bowl "al gusto". The chopped fresh vegetables add significantly to the dish and make the bowl something like a Latin pho. I discovered a whole new enthusiasm. Consequently, each winter requires at least one batch of posole and this New Year's Eve was the time.

Rick Bayless's "Mexico One Plate at a Time" has some good instruction and advice for cooking posole. In my case, I had some left over pig and added some other bits with bones to thicken the broth.

As Bayless notes, you want it to be the consistency of a "soupy stew".

Ready to serve (photo actually shows leftovers): bowl of posole with thinly sliced cabbage, radishes, minced fresh jalapeno, minced onion, grated cheese, lime wedges and chopped cilantro. Add any or all to taste. Personally, crunchy cabbage and the earthy notes lent by the radish are absolutely required, any of the other sides might get added or not.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Here's wishing a smooth road and a happy & prosperous New Year to you all in '09!