Archive for February, 2016

New Sightings

(note:  I wrote this post a year ago, but somehow forgot to publish it until now.)

It’s been a busy week animal-wise. The day after a massive bull moose meandered up our driveway, I was walking along Little Pond and happened upon a mother and baby beavers swimming and playing. They were not the least concerned by my presence – – in fact once they saw me curiosity took over and they swam closer to me, peeking their heads up to get a better look at me.

Apparently that bull moose has been hanging around a lot.  My only neighbor down the road saw him on their driveway as well, and then a few days later, I ran into an awestruck deer hunter dressed in blaze orange coming out of the woods, who said the moose came within 75 feet of him.  This time of year moose are looking for love and bull moose can be aggressive and unpredictable and dangerous.  The hunter didn’t have a moose hunting permit, and he didn’t find any deer, but by spending hours in the quiet of the woods and sharpening his senses, he had an amazing encounter that certainly made his day worthwhile.

Today my husband and I were out for a walk. Suddenly, right in front of us, a beautiful, sleek mink crossed the road right in front of us. It was the very first time we have seen a mink in Maine, and to think it was only a few feet from the bottom of our driveway – – and us – –  was quite a thrill.

Not nearly as thrilling is an invasion of ladybug beetles inside our house.  They congregate in groups of twenty to fifty, usually seeking the corners of the walls near the ceilings.  They do occasionally fly around, and sometimes land in my hair.  They are not harmful but they are very annoying.

We woke to our first snowfall on Friday morning, although the snow was gone by the afternoon.  But temperatures are definitely dipping, with an expected low in the teens tonight.    The pond beneath our house is icing over.  The only noise is the wind, which sends a cutting chill right through one’s clothes.  I’m wearing layers now – – leggings under my skirt, an undershirt under my turtleneck and a fleece jacket over that.  Our wood stove brings warmth and comfort as the days get shorter and colder.

Advertisements

Healthy Shabbat Meals

When I lived in Israel, there was an elderly man who supplied the Shabbat cholent (a long-cooking stew similar to cassoulet) whenever there was a simcha (celebratory event) in our little town.  It was absolutely delicious:  glistening stew meat amongst beans, barley, potatoes and onions, spiced heavily with garlic, salt and pepper.  The ingredients were really not that different from typical Ashkenazi cholent, but there was that je nais se quoi secret ingredient that really packed a savory punch.

In honor of my youngest daughter’s birth, we held a kiddush in our home following prayers at the synagogue, and I hired Mr. G to make me a batch of his amazing cholent.  Because he was an older gentleman he simply couldn’t carry the heavy pots of cholent from his house to mine, so he asked if it would be okay if he assembled and cooked the ingredients in my kitchen.  “Great!” I thought to myself, “now I will get to find out what the secret ingredient is to his fabulous cholent!”

Mr. G. started peeling potatoes and cutting up onions.  He added lots of beans, barley, and meat, layering the ingredients with the usual pepper, salt and garllic, adding water to within an inch of the top of the pot.  Nothing different so far.  But then!  Mr. G. reached into his bag and brought out . . . a 500g. (1 lb) stick of margarine.  He placed the entire stick of margarine into the pot and so the cholent began cooking.

I was completely grossed out!

One of the advantages of being a Baalas Tshuva (“BT”, or someone who becomes an Orthodox Jew later in life) is that I have few preconceived notions about how things “should” be.  It’s not that I don’t respect tradition.  But in most cases, like most assimilated or barely observant American Jews, I simply wasn’t raised with any concept of doing things the way my forefathers did it.  That’s because when my grandparents came to this country from Europe in the early 1900’s, they were trying to escape their former identities as Jews, which had only gotten them into trouble back in anti-Semitic Poland and czarist Russia, and instead hoped to start a new life as Americans who happened to be Jewish by birth.

Having grown up with lots of processed food (aka “real” American cooking: remember those canned mushroom soup noodle casseroles, and jello molds from the 1960s?) as well as Chinese and Mexican take-out food, it took me years to get used to Orthodox, American Ashkenazi (Jews who originally came from Europe)de rigeuer Sabbath foods such as gefillte fish and potato kugel and luxshen kugel, kishke, chicken soup with globules of fat floating on the top, sweet egg challah made with white flour, and several types of cookies and cakes for dessert.  It seems like the DNA of Jewish cooking is fat, sugar, and white flour, with a little soul mixed in.  But healthy, it is not.

The surge of BTs has really shaken up the FFB (Frum From Birth, aka Orthodox Jews from birth) world of Jewish comfort food.  First, our numbers are so large, that by population count alone our different cooking style was bound to have gravitas.  And BTs were media-savvy way before FFBs got into the act, so the appearance of lavishly produced, graphically gorgeous gourmet cookbooks whose emphasis is on more healthful eating could not be ignored even by the frummest (most religious) of the frum balabustas (female heads of households).

No, I don’t use sickly-sweet, Robitussin-like concord grape wine for kiddush; it is more likely to be a kosher cabernet from California or Israel.  Our Sabbath tablecloth is not pure white, but rather a taupe and silver weave that matches our dishes.  And our Friday night and Saturday day meals probably don’t seem very Sabbath-like to a Jew in Boro Park, Brooklyn.  Even our cholent (overnight cassoulet) is fat-free.  Or, instead of cholent, we may have a curried stew or chili.

But before you sugar, fat and white flour traditionalists turn up your nose in disgust, let me take you on a tour of a typical Sabbath meal that won’t leave you reaching for the Alka-Seltzer.

The truth is, we ba’alei tshuva – Jews who have discovered their Orthodox Jewish roots and become religiously observant later in life  – – have both a blessing and a curse.  The “curse” of years of assimilation and non-observance is that we lack the continuity and transmission of many religious family customs (besides Chanuka and Passover, which seem to be universally celebrated by religious and non-religious Jews alike).  At times this ignorance of Jewish tradition is not just inconvenient; it’s sad and tragic and forces us to look outside our own family elders for a frame of reference.

Ironically, the “blessing” is that we lack the transmission of many religious family customs.  And by that I mean, we don’t feel we have to have certain foods prepared certain ways; the Shabbat tablecloth doesn’t have to be white; we can wear certain clothing that, even while modest, a Frum-From-Birth (born into a religious family) person would never dream of wearing lest they be thought of as “eccentric” or worse (hiking boots and a denim skirt – ahem).  Another example:  BTs grew up listening to many different styles of secular music that have influenced the more traditional religious music scene, which until recently was limited to the cantorial “ay-yay-yay oy-yoy-yoy” range; now, for better or worse, there is Yiddish hip-hop (okay, maybe for worse).

If there is a “nouveau” kosher cuisine in the U.S., it’s because of the tremendous amount of ba’alei tshuva whose more modern take on ancient culture has captivated and intimidated FFB’s into being a little daring about experimenting with new ways to celebrate tradition within the bounds of Jewish Law.  Okay, for some FFBs, their extent of “daring” translates into going from sickly sweet concord grape wine to 6% Moscato.  But imho, the explosion of truly fine wine that happens to be kosher, instead of the formerly standard syrupy stuff that was akin to Robitussin, could not have happened without the BT phenomenon.  There is also an explosion of gorgeously graphic kosher cookbooks, authored mostly by . . . BTs.  The other reason that new Jewish cuisine has exploded is due to Israel.  The quality and availability of a very wide range of produce in Israel are phenomenal; and because Israel is such a small country with a large number of Jews from different world cultures, the populace has been exposed to a huge range of dishes and cooking styles.  Besides Jewish holidays (which always involve a lot of eating besides the praying), Israelis love to eat “out,” visible on the street and in sidewalk cafes.

As much as I love the stunning pictures of elegant cuisine, I’m not one to potchke.  (If you do not know what potchke means, you are probably from Maine.).   Traditional Jewish Shabbat foods you will not find at my table include potato kugel; lukshen kugel; chicken soup (unless someone is sick); very well done brisket; braised chicken that is greasy and overcooked and underspiced;  kishke and gefilte fish.  Partly it’s the potchke (it’s labor-intensive) but also, the high concentration and obscene amounts of fat, carbs, white flour, sugar, and few spices are just not exciting nor – – if I must be honest – –  healthy, especially week after week after week.  Do FFBs keep eating these bland, acid-reflux-producing foods every Shabbat out of obligation to tradition?  Do they never tire of the same old, same old – – is it out of anticipation or loyalty to tradition that they remain steadfast?  I understand the origin of many of these foods – – Ashkenazi Jews in the shtetl were desperately poor and they had little to eat other than root vegetables in the colder months.  But must we continue to “suffer” for the sake of tradition?  And can alternative choices – – ones that are healthier, to boot – – still make for a delicious Shabbat meal?

I am enclosing pictures of foods I made for our Shabbat meals over the past few weeks.  I make whole-wheat challah, and while I know how to do the fancy shmancy braiding on large challah loaves, I usually only make individual rolls unless I’m having a large crowd.  That is our way of doing portion control (otherwise my husband and I can finish off an entire loaf of homemade challah and then we hate ourselves afterwards!)   There is also no waste this way like there is with leftover bread (additional whole rolls can be stored in the freezer in zip-lock bags for the following week)  I do make traditional cholent, but I am just as likely to make a curried stew, or chili instead.  I also love quinoa because it’s great plain or mixed with a variety of fruits of vegetables, herbs and spices, and can be served hot or cold.  I also commonly serve “Israeli salad” which is finely diced cucumbers, tomatoes, green onion and garlic with a touch of olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice.

As you can see, there is nothing fancy here, just good, basic food with a lot of flavor, spice and color.

roasted brussells sprouts, zucchini, and eggplant brushed lightly with olive oil and seasoned with basil, rosemary, garlic, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper

roasted brussells sprouts, zucchini, and eggplant brushed lightly with olive oil and seasoned with basil, rosemary, garlic, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper

Thick yellow split pea soup. We have a wide variety of different soups, including lentil, barley mushroom, vegetable, potato, carrot ginger, butternut squash, spinach lemon, bean, or Chinese hot and sour soup, but rarely plain chicken soup.

3-potato roasted combo:  sweet potatoes, yams, and white sweet potato

3-potato roasted combo: sweet potatoes, yams, and white sweet potato

brown basmati rice with hand-picked organic Maine cranberries, toasted walnuts, and kale, seasoned with thyme, parsley, sage, and rosemary, salt and pepper

brown basmati rice with hand-picked organic Maine cranberries, toasted walnuts, and kale, seasoned with thyme, parsley, sage, and rosemary, salt and pepper

Kale chips:  separate kale leaves from stems.  Combine leaves, small amount of olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, bit of rice vinegar, and dash of maple syrup; mix; and dry on cookie sheet in oven for several hours at 170 degrees until crispy.

Crunchy kale chips: separate kale leaves from stems. Combine leaves, small amount of olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, bit of rice vinegar, and dash of maple syrup; mix; and dry on cookie sheet in oven for several hours at 170 degrees until crispy.

Roasted sweet potatoes, version 2:  cut peeled sweet potatoes into small pieces, sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon and rosemary, roast uncovered at  375 F til edges are brown.

Roasted sweet potatoes, version 2: cut peeled sweet potatoes into small pieces, sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon and rosemary, roast uncovered at 375 F til edges are brown.

Scalloped potatoes:  slice very thin and place in pan. Sautee onions till caramelized; add 1 tsp flour, stir, add 1 cup soy or almond milk and stir til thickened, add seasoning and herbs and pour over potatoes, bake til brown on top.

Scalloped potatoes: slice very thin and place in pan. Sautee onions till caramelized; add 1 tsp flour, stir, add 1 cup soy or almond milk and stir til thickened, add seasoning and herbs and pour over potatoes, bake til brown on top.

spinach salad version 1 - tomatoes, cukes, mushrooms, colored peppers, sunflower seeds

spinach salad version 1- tomatoes, cukes, mushrooms, colored peppers, avocado, sunflower seeds

spinach salad version 2.  I love spinach salad.  The organic baby spinach is exceptionally clean right out of the package, even if you like to go over it with an eagle eye.  The great thing about spinach salad is it goes with anything and everything.  Suggested add-ons include:  hard boiled egg, Persian cucumbers, red pepper, kiwi, toasted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, mushrooms.  A great dressing is olive oil with a touch of apple cider vinegar, rosemary, salt, pepper, fresh garlic, scallions, oregano, thyme, and a tsp. of honey mixed together briskly and then tossed into salad.

spinach salad version 2. I love spinach salad. The organic baby spinach is exceptionally clean right out of the package, even if you like to go over it with an eagle eye. The great thing about spinach salad is it goes with anything and everything. Suggested add-ons include: hard boiled egg, Persian cucumbers, red pepper, kiwi, toasted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, sugar snap peas, mushrooms. A great dressing is olive oil with a touch of apple cider vinegar, rosemary, salt, pepper, fresh garlic, scallions, oregano, thyme, and a tsp. of honey mixed together briskly and then tossed into salad.

This is a must-have for your kitchen!  It's a cast iron grill pan and cover (sold separately) made by Lodge Logic (they've been around for decades, and their products will last 100 years if well cared for).  If you very lightly spray the pan with oil, you can add skinless boneless chicken to a hot pan; cover with the gril cover and within moments the bottom will be ready for turning.  After turning, replace grill cover for a few more minutes of grilling.  Voila!  You have amazing grilled chicken that even has a real-grill flavor, minus the mess and fuss, and the fat goes into the indentations away from the meat.  It's super juicy, too.  And it works for any kind of meat, from hamburgers, steaks, chicken, turkey chops, etc.

This is a must-have for your kitchen! It’s a cast iron grill pan and cover (sold separately) made by Lodge Logic (they’ve been around for decades, and their products will last 100 years if well cared for). If you very lightly spray the pan with oil, you can add skinless boneless chicken (I like to season it with shwarma or mixed-grill or kabob seasoning from Israel) to a hot pan; cover with the grill cover and within moments the bottom will be ready for turning. After turning the chicken to its other side, replace grill cover for a few more minutes of grilling. Voila! You have amazing grilled chicken that even has a real-grill flavor, minus the mess and fuss, and the fat goes into the indentations away from the meat. It’s super juicy, too. And it works for any kind of meat, from hamburgers, steaks, chicken, turkey chops, etc. I love Lodge Logic cast iron pots and pans, and am slowly replacing my old Farberware with all Lodge Logic cast iron.

This shows chicken being grilled on top of my propane gas range.

This shows chicken being grilled on top of my propane gas range.

Keeping Busy in Winter

Many of my friends from my hometown ask how I manage to keep busy during winter.  Lately the answer is, “shoveling and more shoveling!”  Every time it snows I have to carve paths to the wood shed, under my clotheslines, to the propane tank and generator, to the solar panels (and wipe them clean of snow), to the composter, and clear snow around the mailbox so we can get mail delivery (this is after the snow plow guy has cleared the driveway).

It may sound odd but I actually enjoy shoveling.  I love being outside in the cold, fresh air (when you dress properly for the weather you truly don’t feel the cold).  But I confess the main reason I love shoveling is because it means that my body still has the wherewithal to do it.  As long as I can shovel, I can fool myself that am not getting old.

Yesterday was actually a busy day.  I made a huge container of goat’s milk yogurt, and did all sorts of cooking and baking.  Is there anything more delicious than the smell of bread baking on a very cold day?  I try not to buy things out of season, and prefer to buy local produce, so we’re eating a lot of root vegetables.  This includes carrots, beets, rutabaga, turnips, beets, kohlrabi and potatoes, plus different kinds of cabbage.

I was really happy to hear that Jen and Justin Ward, incredible off-grid homesteaders and organic farmers from Stow, Maine, would be giving a talk about root cellars at our local library.   The Wards, who I’ve known for a couple of years, are my main suppliers for organic eggs, the product of free-range chickens.  Their eggs are not only sold the day they are gathered, so they’re incredibly fresh, the yolks are a deep marigold color and even though the size is smaller than you buy in a supermarket, they whip up so big that a 2-egg omelette looks like a 4-egg omelette from the store.  And the taste!  They are naturally buttery and really delicious.

For Jen and Justin, their farm is a family business.  They have four children ages 6 – 17 and all of them help out.  They are committed to organic-only and love growing a huge range of fruits and vegetables from heirloom seed stock.  (One of their suppliers is Fedco Seed.  Ordering their amazing, informative and entertaining seed catalog is must for any gardener.)

Stranger Danger

This past summer I was in my local library when the town recreation center’s day camp wandered in as part of a field trip.  The kids, ages 6 – 11, were very excited to be there.  Both library computers were in use by adults and one of them was me.  A little kid came up to me and asked if she could use the computer.

“Well, I’m using it right now,” I replied, “but if there is something you are looking for in the catalog, you can ask the librarian to help you.”

“I’ll wait,” she said.  “And by the way:  my name is Meghan, and I’m 8!”  Without my prodding (I was busy working on a writing project that had a deadline), Meghan chattered away, proceeding to tell me all about her life, her school, her camp, her siblings, where she lives, and where she likes to go swimming.  Finally the other computer became available.  “‘Bye!” she waved cheerily.

I couldn’t really understand why I felt unsettled by her conversation.  She was a charmer!  But then it happened again, this time on the lake where I was kayaking.  An 11-year-old girl steered her kayak over to my boat, and a similar conversation ensued.

“Hi! My name is Cindy!  What’s your name?  Where do you live?  I live in the house over there!” she prattled, pointing to a clapboard cottage on the lake.  Just like it had been with Meghan, Cindy enthusiastically rattled off her age, her school, and what she likes best about summer.  She told me about her parents’ work.  And then it struck me:  I couldn’t even remember the last time a child that I didn’t previously know had interacted with me.  In my home town, and probably in most cities around the US, we’re teaching our kids about “Stranger Danger;” we’re teaching them to be suspicious of anyone unknown to them, lest grievous harm befall them.  Our kids know never to initiate conversation with a stranger, and not even to answer an unknown person’s question unless their parents are present.   Why did I feel uncomfortable, despite our clearly innocuous and delightful dialogue?    What would people think of me, clearly someone previously unknown to that child, making conversation?

Now I’m not saying that rural Maine is immune to danger, or to lurking sickos.  I don’t care where you live:  go to any government website that tracks sex offenders, enter your zip code, and find out who your neighbors really are.  Rural places do hold an attraction for misfits and offenders because they will be mostly left alone.  They can live far from “civilization” and it’s geographically practical for them to keep away from schools and other places like shopping malls where children may congregate.

Surely evil people are in the minority.  We all know and believe that.  But living in the city, where nearly everyone is a stranger, it’s simply not worth taking a chance if it involves our children’s safety; one cannot be too cautious.  And so we’ve worked hard to remove the natural instinct of a child to interact in the uninhibited, curious and vivacious manner that they favor.  Recently in Maryland young siblings were held in police custody and their parents threatened with a Department of Social Services investigation for child endangerment because they allowed their children to walk home from the park on their own, without adult supervision.  Not only did the parents believe their children were capable of finding their way home on their own, they chose to believe that their children would be safe doing so.  This ideology is part of the “free-range” movement, which assumes certain risks are miniscule compared to the benefit of raising children who will be capable, self-sufficient and independent.  I honestly don’t know if these Maryland children’s suburb is safe.  There are certainly areas of L.A. and Baltimore where my own children grew up where I would not feel comfortable letting them roam.

Here in rural Maine, kids are bused up to an hour away from their home to attend public school.  With so few children per town, kids not only end up knowing all the kids in their town, but thanks to community schools that may have attendees from five or ten different hamlets, they know a lot of people from a wide-ranging area.  They need to engage with others if they want to widen their world, and they do, because they can.  Rural Maine allows kids to be themselves, without the cautionary fears or suspicions that have spun out of control in our cities, justified or not.  In general, rural Maine is a safe and comforting place for children to grow up.

Living in Maine, I’ve changed.  I now believe that if you live in a place where the risk for your child’s safety is such that it keeps kids from saying hello to a stranger or walking to a friend’s house to play, it is not a community in which to raise a child.  Period.  There are other choices, places where your kids can be kids, in all their innocence and sense of wonder.

And that’s the way life should be.

Priorities and Inconveniences

Our closest major supermarket in Maine is 35 minutes away, although I prefer the one over the border in New Hampshire that is 45 minutes away.  It’s true, you can’t really afford to forget anything on your marketing list, because when you spend $10 in gas, and a total of 1.5 hours in travel time, you think twice about a double trip and realize there is very little stuff on your menu that can’t be substituted or eliminated.  Of course I have a large supply of stored non-perishables for just that situation as well as weather emergencies.  So being organized and making careful lists become habit, and it’s really not all that hard.  I also make sure to combine errands for better efficiency.  A trip to the supermarket might also include filling up with gas, picking up whatever I need at the hardware store, shopping at Wal-Mart, and a visit to Dunkin Donuts for a cold drink or hot chocolate, depending on the season.  It may even include a side trip to the vet or a pick-your-own field or orchard.  It also means that Market Day lasts at least 4 to 8 hours, but that is my choice and I don’t consider it an inconvenience.  Because food shopping I do once a week – – but things like fishing, kayaking, swimming in the lake, hiking, walking and camping amidst magnificent nature, ponds, streams, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, valleys, and mountaintops, I can do every single day!  And where and how else would life afford me this opportunity?

20150716_191152-2.jpg

20150716_191528-2.jpg

Our closest lake is only 2 miles and 4 minutes away.  That means that my husband can take lunch hour swimming or kayaking and be back in plenty of time to finish his day.  Or he can finish work at 5 pm and still have time for a hike or kayak or swim.  Or even go on an overnight camping trip, since magnificent campsites provided at no charge by the Forest Service are only 3 miles and 5 minutes away.

20150716_191516-2.jpg

That is just what we did one week this past summer.  At noon I visited the campsite, flush against waterfalls, a natural pool, potholes and stream, and set up camp with our tent, hammock, and a couple of lawn chairs.  I brought wood and kindling from our house and laid it down next to the fire ring.  I wasn’t worried about leaving my stuff and it getting stolen – – the campsite is remote enough that few people other than locals would even know how to find it, though it’s easily accessible from a dirt road, and the overwhelming majority of Mainers are inherently honest folk.

 

Half an hour later I was back at home, impatiently waiting for my husband to finish work so we could begin our camping adventure.  We ate  dinner at home – – we didn’t want to encourage any bears at the campsite with the scent of leftover food – – and drove to the campsite with our dog, Spencer.  After getting the campfire going and applying some bug spray, my husband settled into the hammock and studied the works of Maimonides’ Mishna Torah, a Jewish sacred text; I sat in the lawn chair near the fire and read a biography of Ariel Sharon which to my surprise, I found under the freecycle canopy at our local dump.  As the sun went down, the air turned delightfully cool.  I had placed some exercise mats on the floor of our tent which provided ample padding for our tired, aging bodies.  It was a clear night and the proliferation of stars were remarkable.

20150716_193836.jpg

20150716_194319-2.jpg

In the morning my husband arose with the dawn, made a fire, and relaxed further.  He returned home to start his workday while I remained at the campsite, enjoying the stream, taking lots of photos with my cellphone, and eventually napping in the hammock, falling asleep in the hammock.  When I broke camp, and put the tent and other paraphernalia back in the car, I called my dog, Spencer, to come to the car.  He wouldn’t budge.  As I approached him, he darted away.  He steadfastly refused to get in the car.  Every time I’d get close, he practically laughed at me, “Can’t catch me!” and running just out of my reach.  Like us, he had enjoyed our quickie camping night out, and hated to call it quits.

20150716_192003-2-1.jpg

Sadly, it was to be our dog’s last camping trip.  Spencer died in September at age 12 from cancer.  I am so glad we had this time with him, and such wonderful memories.

The Volcano

20150712_190946-2-1.jpg

Two and one-half years ago, at the end of our guests’ stay, they generously gifted us via UPS with a Volcano.  I had never heard of this unique type of grill until then.  I was unaware of its cult following amongst preppers and survivalists who swear by its wonders.  Its design works via a different type of heat distribution to cook evenly and thoroughly with less expenditure of fuel, and in smaller quantities, than other grills.  It can use propane, charcoal briquettes or wood as fuel, making it a great survival and emergency cooking tool, and it collapses and folds down for portability.

But you can’t use a Volcano without reading its very specific directions, which sounded a bit complex and daunting.  It came with a cookbook filled with warnings and cautionary notes about cooking techniques, the various combinations of setting the grilling shelf at different levels, the exact number of charcoal briquettes to use and amount of ventilation holes to open or close if using a Dutch oven or frying pan or just doing straight barbecuing.  While assembly was easy, every time I read that instruction book I sighed and gave up.  Since the grill arrived the day before our guests left, there hadn’t been time to use it.  Truthfully I felt no true compulsion to give the Volcano a try after they left, although I’d take it out of the box every so often, read the instructions and stare it down with hard, doubting eyes.  Every time we’d see our guests back in our home town, they never failed to ask if we’d tried the Volcano yet.  Embarrassed, I’d answer honestly and say that no, we were waiting for them to visit again so we could explore the wonders of the Volcano together.

Well, our generous guests arrived this past summer, and I knew I was going to have to make a cookout with the Volcano.  This time I was determined to make it work.  I don’t know why the language of that cookbook overwhelmed me so, although generally I do tend to get flustered from multi-step processes.  So I broke the instructions into little pieces that I could better handle, and sure enough, the whole thing started to make some sense.  I placed “NO MORE THAN 25 BRIQUETTES!” (as the instruction book warned in caps) into the base, lit them, and waited for it them to get hot and turn white.

I will tell you this:  like the cookbook bragged, it produced the juiciest, most evenly cooked hot dogs and hamburgers I’ve ever tasted, even from grills that cost many hundreds or thousands of dollars more.  My guests were equally delighted.  The Volcano is a definite keeper, and I highly recommend it for preppers, car campers, park visitors, and home grillers.  It’s actually easy to use and easy to clean – – hooray!

20150712_191636.jpg

20150712_194541-2.jpg

My next project will be deciphering the cookbook’s instructions for cooking a stew with my Lodge Logic cast-iron Dutch oven.

I’ll let you know how that goes . . . in about two years.

Bear Dog

(note – I wrote this post months ago, but simply forgot to post it until now)

 

 

Late in the afternoon on a very hot, humid and thunderstorming day, I let my dog out of the front door to do his business.  Greeting us was a magnificent hound dog with a radio collar attached to his neck.

20150719_182752-2.jpg

20150719_182834-2-1.jpg

July and August are training season for bear dogs.  Radio collars – – the fancy ones have GPS units built in – – are attached to the dogs’ necks.  Usually their owners set them out in the woods – – they travel mostly in packs – – in search of bears.  The dogs, who are highly motivated by the hunting genes that have been bred into them, as well as the promise of a meal following a successful hunt, roam at a wicked running pace throughout the White Mountain National Forest for five to eight hours non-stop over the roughest terrain imaginable, seemingly impervious to rocks, rivers, thorns, heat, and heavy foliage.  When they locate a bear, they chase him into a tree, where the poor bear cowers above.  The sensors on the dogs’ radio collars alert the owners that they’ve found a bear, and using antennae, the dogs’ owners race their trucks as close as possible to the located site, hiking and bushwhacking whatever additional miles are necessary to reach the dogs and their quarry.  In these months of July and August, the bears are merely observed and the dogs rewarded with a treat, but come Fall once hunting season begins for real, the bears are shot and killed, their furry hides sold for use as rugs or taxidermied trophies; the meat is consumed.

The dog facing us had clearly gotten separated from his pack.  He seemed bewildered and wary, but was sweet as pie.  Oh, those hound dog eyes!  It was killing me.

20150719_183543-2-1.jpg

Even though bear-hunting dogs are lean by nature, upon closer examination, the dog was clearly underfed, with his ribs showing painfully through his skin.  The pads on his feet were very thick, but worn, clearly a sign that he regularly traversed many miles.  His toes were somewhat splayed – – perhaps the sign of being in a kennel with a metal mesh bottom.  The skin by the white areas of fur was pink with sunburn.  I figured he’d be traced by radio collar soon enough to our house if he was missing.  I thought the owner would be upset if I fed him, since food is a great motivator for his training and a well-fed dog is a dog who might not feel like hunting.

But those hound dog eyes!

I approached him gently and with soothing words, gave him a pat.  His ears were soft like corn silk.  He nuzzled my dog gently.  I ran into the house to get him some dog food.

I didn’t want to overfeed him, although he looked like he could have used it, because I was afraid that if he over-ate in his malnourished state he might get sick.  I also gave him a bowl of fresh water.  The food he simply inhaled – – it was gone in seconds, so unlike my own dog’s polite picking.  I don’t even know if he had a chance to chew before swallowing.

One thing that is hard for me about country life is getting used to the working dog mentality.  My dog is my pet.  He’s not really good for anything practical but I do enjoy his companionship on walks and hikes, as well as his unconditional love.  We have fun together, and I love the way he interacts with children and other dogs.  But unlike dogs that are pets, working dogs are tools, a means to an end.  Most are liked and well cared for, but many are not.  Few working dogs see the inside of their owners’ houses, although they may take shelter in the barn in winter.

A couple of hours passed and the dog was still hanging around.  My husband decided to go to the Inn a mile up the road, and see if anyone had reported him lost.  Indeed, a young man in his twenties had come by a few hours earlier and left his contact information with the clerk at the Inn.  My husband returned home and I called Matt, the owner.

Matt and his wife had been riding the back country roads for several hours in search of “Chase,” the beautiful dog now in my possession.  Their relief at our finding him was palpable over the phone.  Fortunately they were only about 10 minutes away.  I quickly gave Chase another bowl of food and decided to reserve judgement until they came to pick up their dog.

Chase was their youngest dog, only 18 months old, out of the six Blue Tick and Walker Treeing Coonhounds that they owned.  They clearly loved the dog.  When I expressed my concern about his emaciated state, they told me that these dogs are extremely driven, and once released to hunt, they will keep running at a steady pace until they locate a bear.  Poor Chase had been outside since 9 a.m and it was now 9 p.m.   They had been looking for him since 3 p.m, when their other dogs has successfully treed a bear but Chase was nowhere in sight. He had been running for at least 10 hours and they thought he probably went 50 – 70 miles over the course of the day!  In a usual training session, the dogs commonly run 30 – 50 miles.  They burn up a gargantuan number of calories in the process, but make up for it during the week when they are kenneled back at home and get plenty of nourishment.

I had to take Matt’s word for it, and released Chase to his happy and very grateful owners.

But I don’t think that’s the last we’ll see of Chase.  He knows how to find us on his next White Mountain foray, and he knows that a tasty meal and gentle pat awaits him.