Meanwhile, at sea…

Brother- in- law George Graham has been getting more and more involved in observing, counting, and studying marine birds and fish off the coast of Massachusetts, so far as a volunteer. He sent this report and these excellent photos, as migration stretces its  lines down the coasts. My only caveat is that George will have to tell you what his acronyms mean.Take it, George!

“I finally made it on one of the last excursions of the year on the R/V Auk 25 miles out to the SBNMS with the crew from NOAA. We had a fantastic day this past Monday, calm seas, low wind and temps about 60. Pretty good score for an October day off Massachusetts Bay. The primary objective was gathering data on seabirds following a predetermined course of over 100 miles, secondary were mammal and debris observations. We counted over 1800 birds in about 17 species. A great experience. Now that I’m a trained recorder, I’m looking forward to riding the whale watches next spring as a Stellwagen Sanctuary Seabird Steward (S4 project).

“I was the test dummy for the safety brief, see gumby suit. Group shot of the S4 volunteers. The gent on the left is Wayne Petersen,  Mass Audubon’s Director of the Massachusetts Important Bird Areas (IBA) program. He was a great source of knowledge and a pleasure to work with.”

Steve again. Scoters and eiders; more than a bit of nostalgia there. The two opposing poles, the yin and the yang  of Yankee bird hunting, are the slow- moving, rather comfortable ramble with a pretty setter through the transformed glory of a New England autumn, with grouse and woodcock as quarry, and eating such noble quarry cooked by traditional, classical recipes… I mean, the French cook such birds right.

And then there are sea ducks– shot from small boats,  often on dark days off dangerous coasts,  with an east wind blowing sleet and freezing rain at you midst turbulence and discomfort and the smell of salt air and wet dog. A Chessie might beat a Lab, and a ten bore might be the best choice in a gun. To cook them well you had best know some old swamp Yankee secrets or you’d do better to eat the legendary board you were supposed to nail them to.

You might be surprised which I remember best.

Flying visit with bar & meal

Reid & Connie blew through ahead of a winter storm, down to take a look at Aussie pups which he will doubtless blog on. An early evening in the bar, an excellent elk “Brasato” courtesy of reader Roberto, (recipe below), talk til eyes closing of everything from science fiction to Doc Holliday to folk and country music, rare books, and, always, archaeology; sleep, brunch, photos and off. Amazing how many subjects good talkers can bounce through in a short time…

Lib & Connie at the Spur (grannies didn’t look like that when we were kids); my good friend of many years and possible cousin Bobby Winston, demolition expert and long- time proprietor of Winston’s Chevron, by Connie, trying to scare the camera (Bob is a descendant of Italian- Swiss miners, the Papas and the Strozzis, first into this country before 1860). He loves to give his baleful Jenghiz frown– “Be careful, I might break the camera!- but I can testify he is the kindest and most loyal of friends. Finally, Reid and me outside Casa Q; photo by Connie.

Brasato by Roberto Buonfante:

“Soak the meat in chunks or cubes in a large bowl totally covered with red wine and add the following: onion, celery, carrots, cloves, bay leaves and very important cracked juniper berries.This mix stays in the refrigerator at least 24 hrs, stir everything at least once.

“Cooking in a pan, I use copper for best results but any would be fine, extra v. olive oil sautee the meat keeping the wine and everything except cloves that are removed with a strain or placed in advance inside a half onion like nails . Add everything and cook with a lid until meat is tender and fully cooked, maybe 1 hour.

“When cooked add one glass of milk with a spoon of flour well dissolved in the milk. Pour into the brasato and cook until the flour is done, let say 15 more min. At the end I add a teaspoon of ground unsweetened cocoa, strange but amazing the result.

“I serve over polenta.”

I used elk rather than boar, added a single dry ancho chile for flavor more than heat, and considering altitude among other things cooked it all afternoon in a closed Dutch oven but in an oven set at only 200 degrees. it was at least as good as he predicted.

Chinese Elk Shanks

A Chinese red- cooking braise– good for any shanks, but you need strong tasty almost tough meat. What you should end up with is a kind of Chinese osso bucco with more than a hint of chile– restaurant good & fork tender. Mine but owes much to Fuchsia Dunlop…

Preheat the oven to a pretty low temperature. I use only 250 degrees, and plan to cook it for hours.

Heat a few tbsp of peanut oil in a Dutch oven. Add 2 tbsp of good chili bean paste (not one of the vinegary kinds, or one with lots of extra ingredients other than beans and chile), a cinnamon stick, a star anise, up to 8 dried little red chiles, and a one inch chunk of ginger cut into very thin slices. Turn them all around until they’re well coated, and the smell gets good.

Now add the shanks, turning them around until they’re browned and covered by the spices.

Now, add enough water or stock to virtually cover the shanks, and bring to a boil. I like to use good homemade chicken or game stock as it is richer than water.

When it’s bubbling add a tbsp of dark soy sauce (this is a heavy sweeter sauce — you can get it in Chinese markets; if you can’t find it, don’t worry about it); 2 tbsp regular soy sauce and 2 tsp clear vinegar, preferably rice vinegar if you have it.

Now cover it and stick it in the oven and leave it for a minimum of 5 hours. If you leave it long enough I suggest you turn it down even lower to 225 or even 200.

Garlic mashed potatoes are a good accompaniment. Or you can do Chinese style potatoes: peel, cut into chunks, fry in peanut oil until golden and crispy on the outside, and put into the braise an hour before it is done.

Libby reminds me that you may have a slightly shorter cooking time at your altitude, as we are at 6500′ plus. Just keep checking — the thing is to get it falling off the bone and almost meltingly tender. This recipe will work with almost any kind of shanks, as well as beef short ribs.

Born to Hunt

John Barsness has just released his latest book, Born to Hunt, a collection of essays that ranges from his home in Montana to Africa and the Arctic, along with more obscure destinations like Norway and Ireland.

If you read magazines you surely know that John is one of the most prolific “gun writers” alive, as well as one of the most experienced hunters. What more casual readers may not realize is that John, who started as a poet (and the son of a Montana-born English professor) is one of the most lyrical hunting writers around, as well as one who has truly lived “the life of the hunt” (which is also the title of his last collection of essays). He and his wife Eileen Clark eat more game than anyone else I know, including me — and we eat far more game than domestic meat. They are also both good writers.

This collection, though well-rooted in the Rockies and the north country and alive with elk and mule deer, moose and caribou and grizzly and the ways of the Inuit, roams as far afield as John has — which is to say as far as anyone I know who was not born with a trust fund. If I have one (minor) whining complaint it is that his only mentions of game birds are glancing if elegant asides on such as sage grouse; I’d love to see more bird hunting.But this is a book about big game and food, and maybe as befits a sixty-ish hunter, mortality.

John knows the Real Things and Big Truths. On wilderness, he quotes Teddy Roosevelt saying that Roosevelt “…grew up in the cradle of 19th century civilization, part of an aristocratic New York family, but felt healthy humans needed occasional time with naked nature.” Roosevelt said of hunting and the wilderness that “the wilderness hunter must not only show skill in the use of the rifle and address in finding and approaching game, but he must also show the qualities of hardihood, self-reliance, and resolution needed for effectively grappling with his wild surroundings. The fact that the hunter needs the game, both for the meat and for its hide, undoubtedly adds zest to the pursuit.”

He also knows that real hunting, where you pack everything out, is brutally hard work as well as fun. Eileen has badly compromised lungs because of a rare disease, but is one of the hardest hunters I know. She “…packed half the ewe out on her back a round in her 30-06’s chamber as we hiked through grizzly country smelling like fresh blood. You cannot buy a day like that, or meat that tastes like mountain meadows, or the God’s-eye view from timberline, where the mountains rise in a line from Canada and the prairies disappear in the earth’s curve. The only way you can find that particular part of the Rockies is to climb it yourself, each step like the hard pulse of a mountain’s heart.”

He knows the scarier truths: that when you are out there in the wilderness, asleep in a tent, “…there come memories beyond our five external senses, deeply imbedded reminders that there isn’t much separating us from all that is around us, whether the darkness beyond the fire the stars wavering in the heat waves from the wall tent’s stove pipes, are lions or grizzly bears.” But he knows purely funny truths too, including one that I have noticed myself, birding with an old PH in Hwange in Zimbabwe: “African professional hunters, unlike many North Americans, don’t regard bird-watching as a subversive if not actually wimpy activity. Russell, who shot hundreds of elephant and buffalo on control, proved just as adept at identifying a saddle-billed stork or a cape teal.” There are even nuggets of useful advice and hard-earned knowledge — the skills you need to ride in a horseback pack hunt; the fact, that seems utterly unremarkable to me, that you are as likely to find good meat on a big-racked bull as on a fat doe (I think over-privileged trophy hunters use the cliche of the inedible big bull as an excuse to give away the meat. The more for me!)

Finally there is a poet’s delight in pure writing. To find a big mule deer “…his hard land must be entered softly without breaking the horizon with our bi-pedal stance. We must ease inside — and then sit down, like some high country accountant and pore over the same land again and again, rechecking the same columns of numbers, until we find the big-antlered anomaly in all that tilted space.” Or, on Cape Buffalo “We probed the herd’s perimeter like infantry, armed only with my .416, Russell’s old .458, and just enough adrenaline to make buffalo appear like black holes in green space.

Go to Rifles and Recipes and buy this one. And The Life of the Hunt, and Rifle Loony, and Eileen’s big cookbook (perhaps the most useful game cookbook ever; after all, what other cookbook writer eats no domestic meat?) or, with confidence, just about anything else there.

And here’s John with his latest, post-book buff, taken with that CZ .416, which I sold him a long time ago and he modified to be something like Harry Selby’s– the story is in Rifle Loony.