Thursday, November 29, 2012

His Noodly Appendage: Oriental-like Venison Noodle Soup

When I finished boning out the meat from the shoulder and ham my brother gave me, I realized I must make broth with the bones.  I used my BFC (Big F'ing Cleaver) to chop them into manageable bits and then proceeded to boil them down with onions, celery, carrots and bay leaf in a classic broth fashion.  After a few hours of simmering I strained off the liquid and let it sit on the stove-top overnight.  In the morning the fluid had clarified itself and I carefully decanted it off of the sediment and simmered it down for about a hour more.  I basically ended up with about 20 ounces of slightly salted juicy essence of venison that I chilled in the fridge for a couple of nights.

I agonized a bit about what to do with this broth, but I'm feeling a general Asian kick right now after that delicious meal at Xaio Bao Biscuit so I quickly realized I needed to do some kind of venison noodle soup.  Ramen-esque if you would.  I actually did some reading about how to make ramen noodles from scratch but honestly for my first attempt I didn't even want to mess with it.  Instead I just picked up a pack of whole-grain linguini from Publix. I did go to one of our local Asian grocery stores to pick up a pack of miso paste and a package of mung bean sprouts.

I selected a packet of boned shoulder meat for this endeavor.  I spent some time cutting out the more obvious silverskin.  BTW, this was still partially frozen which really does make the meat easier to cube.

Out of the vacuum bag

Cubed about an inch on each side.  I love how dark red venison is.
I took the venison stock (which had actually gelled up nicely in the fridge overnight, very lovely) and combined it with about 32 ounces of water and slowly heated it to a simmer.  Meanwhile I went out to the garden and picked about the only thing I still have growing right now, a handful of young tender collard greens. 

So pretty!
I cut out the mid-rib and shredded the collard leaves into strips. 

I always use a knife to de-rib 6-8 leaves at a time, then just fold the leaves and slice.
I pulled out my trusty cast-iron pan.  I don't think I've written about this pan yet, it was just a run-of-the-mill find from the local flea market, but something about really spoke to me the first time I laid eyes on it.  I've tried other cast iron pans before, but without much success.  For whatever reason, this one is perfect and I've really become comfortable with it.  Hopefully it won't be going anywhere.

Starting to brown the venison.
I then attempted to brown the venison on each side over medium high heat.  I admit, I did get anxious and crowd the meat too much, so only the first side really browned correctly before the liquid rendered out and it really just sort of started stewing in its own juices.  Oh well.  After that was as good as it was getting I dumped the "browned" meat into the stock pot.  I put some more olive oil in the pan and stir fried the collards for a bit with a few cloves of diced garlic, just enough to make it change color and brown it slightly.  I deglazed the pan with a few large spoonfuls of the stock and re-added it to the pot as well.

Starting to simmer.
I poured in about a 8th cup of lower-sodium soy sauce and a few splashes of fish sauce.  I wasn't sure how much was correct so I was pretty conservative.  After simmering a few hours I went ahead and started boiling the pasta.  When the pasta was about ready I dumped the mung bean sprouts into the soup then turned the heat off.  I then took roughly a quarter cup of miso past and combined it with about two cups of warm water, stirring to mix the two.  When that was well mixed I combined it into the soup as well.  The result:

Tasty-looking.  It smelled pretty good at this point too.

Turns out I was a little off on the soy to my tastes, and of course I added a bit of sriracha sauce for heat.  I loved the flavor of this broth in general though, and the contrast of soft collard green and noodles with the crunchy mung bean sprout was awesome.

I remembered something from a few years ago as I was scooping up spoonfuls.  On some random hunting forum, couldn't tell you which, a typical thread about what a "big buck" is was rolling.  A short, concise response caught my eye "A doe eats better."   I expected this meat to be a bit gamey, and it definitely was.  A buck shot in the ass with buckshot after running from dogs is not going to be as tasty as a doe dropped in cold blood, I'm sure.  I can see I might as well forget trying to cut any steaks from the ham, as I did with the two Catalina does.  Oh well, there's plenty of recipes out there made to work with gamey, I'm sure I'll find a few.

Beggars can't be choosers, after all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving, As In I'd Better Be Thankful I Was Given Something

Thanksgiving has come and gone and along with it our trip to South Carolina to visit my family and for me to engage in a few hunts.  We headed up Thursday morning and arrived in time for a great Thanksgiving dinner my sister-in-law prepared for us at my brother's house.  At the end of the afternoon I climbed into my hunting drag and my brother showed me the way to a tripod stand with two corn piles he's placed on some land he has permission to hunt.  Like a lot of things up there that's convoluted, the land belongs to my Dad's ex-woman friend's friend (it wasn't the most amicable break-up), but she seems to still get along with my brother well enough to let him continue to hunt there.

Yes, it is a Decepticon. 
 As anyone who reads this blog knows, sitting up in a more-or-less permanent tripod while staring at a pile of bait isn't my normal style of hunting.  It usually involves a lot more hiking in and out of public land with a backpack climber.  However, the season isn't getting any younger and beggars can't be choosers.  I sat that evening from about 4:15 until after after shooting light.  Just as things really settled down and I had a good feeling about it, at around 5 some kid drove up on a road just through the woods but out of sight and started calling for his dogs (the club on the land next door dog hunts).  I sincerely hope he found T.J. and Levi, because he sure wasn't helping me find anything.  I, of course, came back empty handed.

Is it possible that this could surprise any of you people? 

My brother wanted me go on to his club for a dog hunt with him Friday morning but I started feeling crappy after I got home Thursday evening and by Friday morning I really didn't feel like going out into freezing weather.  I stayed home and popped Advil and by noon I felt like going over to my Dad's and doing some work around the house for him.  When I pulled out the leaf blower the neighbor next door came over to discuss how dust was a primary reason for mildew growth on his pontoon boat.  He's a good friend of ours but he can be peculiar.

Friday evening was a repeat of Thursday, but without T.J. and Levi's owner.  When I climbed down this time I switched out the SD card in the trail cam pointed at the closest corn pile.  Back at my Brother's house I confirmed what I knew in my soul.  The previous week entire herds of deer had been swarming the piles in the warm autumn glow of sunset.  Then all activity ceased the week I was there.

Is it possible that this could surprise any of you people? 

Saturday I got up at the butt-crack of dawn and went out to Cousin George's farm, where he met me in the darkness and ushered me into a ladder stand he had placed in relatively thick woods, only about 20 yards from a corn pile.

I have to say I do love watching the world wake up this time of year.  Song birds were everywhere before dawn, yelling their lovely melodic obscenities at each other.  Fat squirrels swarmed the forest, jumping down to the corn and back into the surrounding hardwoods.  I sat there for over three hours, and I have to say it was some of the most peaceful time I've spent this year.

About 9:15 I decided to hang it up and climb down, mostly because there was a lot more stuff to do that day.  I had a heavy heart, since these were the last few moments I would spend hunting this season, and in leaving I was admitting defeat. I tossed my heavy jacket down, followed by my trail bag.  I carefully lowered the rifle, then sighed and climbed down the metal rungs.

Of course, as I made it to terra firma, stood and stretched, movement caught my eye.  75 yards behind the stand, in my blind spot, the brilliant white of three jaunty tails bounded silently away. 

Is it possible that this could surprise any of you people?

Right after the deer fled.  I figured I needed a pic anyhow.
George also saw them run as he drove up to retrieve me.  At his insistence he handed me an 870 shotgun that he had in his truck and he made an effort to drive them back towards a cut-off spot he placed me in, but to no avail.  I caught a very fleeting glimpse of them in the distance as they slipped off across the field as he was trying to drive them back.  I was actually OK with this, since I have very negative feelings about shooting a running deer with a shotgun.  Its pretty much the opposite of the strategic humane single shot kill I always envision when I play the hunt out in my mind. 

Free-range, grass fed, organic cattle at the Muckenfuss Bauernhof.  They don't do it on purpose, that's just how they've always raised them.  I keep encouraging him to get hooked up with the farmer's markets in the area, they are walking gold.

I wish I could be like Obi Wan and Yoda:  "That boy was our last hope.""No, there is another."  But no, that's about it for my deer season.  At this point I don't have any more limited entry permits for state land.  I could go over to Santa Fe Swamp, which has an open primitive weapons season.  In fact, I probably will take my muzzleloader over there at some point but I don't have any expectations of finding a legal deer this late in the season, it would be just a hike with a gun.  Which is fun, of course.

Another option is to go back to South Carolina for Christmas, but that would be more money for licenses, etc.  Besides, I'm really looking forward to a laid-back Christmas in our own home, I have five consecutive days off this year and want to enjoy them without long car trips.  So that's probably out.

As a consolation prize my brother did give me a shoulder and a lower ham from a buck shot on his club the day I didn't go.  I got it home and cut it up Sunday.  The ham was peppered with buckshot wound channels, not good but I managed to salvage a lot of it, so at least I'll be able to put some new recipes up on here, I have a few good (I hope) ideas. 

BTW, one of the inspirations came for the restaurant we ate at Saturday night, a new "Asian comfort food" restaurant in Downtown Charleston.  Xaio Bao Biscuit is owned by a man who is probably a distant cousin of mine and his wife.  They treated us very right that night, great food, great beer, great conversation.  Frequent it if you are in the area. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Season Thus Far, in Three Chapters.

Prologue:  Smokys Love
View from the Mt. Sterling Trail

The week after the wonderful morning hunt in Goethe I described a couple of blog posts ago I took off on a camping trip to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, one of my favorite places on earth.  My Cousin George, the one who accompanied me to Catalina on my second hunt there, met me there and we had a great few days doing day hikes in the area. The fall colors were just starting to put on their show. We climbed Mt. Sterling, the easternmost tall mountain in GSMNP, and hiked out from Newfound Gap along the Appalachian Trail to The Jumpoff, an amazing perch above a thousand foot cliff.  We had absolutely perfect weather (besides some fog at The Jumpoff) and heard the spine chilling eeriness of the elk bugling Cataloochee Valley, where we camped. 

Chapter 1:  Love, Divided

When I returned from the trip something had slipped with my hunting momentum.  This blog aside, to this day my first love in the woods is hiking and exploring.  You can almost say its unnatural for me to sit still for very long, although I've definitely done it enough to realize you have experiences in a tree stand you just don't get from wandering.  Conversely, wandering has a lot of advantages too.  

I had a permit for the Lake Panasoffkee archery hunt, which sounded like a great idea when I bought it.  As the time approached though, it was appealing less and less.  I didn't draw a doe tag, and the antler limit is a pretty high standard there.  Those things coupled with a complete lack of scouting in the area caused me to scrap the whole idea and simply go back to the areas of Goethe I'm familiar with for the last weekend of archery there.  

For the Friday hunt I really didn't have time to make it all the way out to the island, so I set up near a scrape in the thick woods on the way, where I've jumped several deer while walking past.  This area was close enough to the adjacent private land to actually hear kids playing and parents calling, so not quiet as peaceful as I'd hoped.  At about the end of shooting light I heard a deer walk past just out of sight, but never caught sight of it.  It was a peaceful evening but I was feeling antsy.

The next morning I made it out to my usual spot.  It was a nice sit but I was really feeling antsy.  The hiker in me was almost screaming.  Fall was full blown in the air, and there were a lot of places that needed to be seen.  I suffered though the morning, seeing nothing, not even squirrels.  Something had to be done.

The next Saturday morning I did something.  I eschewed venatic endeavors for a 14-mile hike on the south loop of the Citrus Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest.  I got up just slightly later than I would to hunt and made it to the trail head a few minutes after dawn.  I surprised myself how well I managed the hike considering it was my longest on by far in over a year.  The day was perfect, amazing blue skies, fall wildflowers everywhere.  The trail passes a few caves and one large sinkhole pond, one of the few places in Florida where tripping over a rock on the trail is a real concern. Parts of it also follow an old stagecoach route through the area, including a loop around the pond they used to water the horses.  The northeast section contained beautifully well-maintained Sandhill habitat that was covered in fall flowers.

Lopsided Indian-grass in the dawn's rays.  Sublime.

Chapter 2:  Walkabout

The following weekend was muzzleloading season in Goethe.   It was also the time period that Hurricane Sandy was churning away off the coast.  I feel somewhat guilty putting this in writing considering the pain it inflicted on many people, but it brought us here in Florida some great weather.  It was a bit breezy though, so much so that I wasn't super comfortable with the idea of climbing a pine tree with a tree stand.  My coworker Donnie, the wise hunter, gave me a great piece of advice:  "Why don't you just go walk around?"  Loves, reunited!  And so Saturday afternoon found me tracing a 5 mile loop around the northern tip of Goethe, .45 CVA rifle in hand, carefully easing around corners and stopping to listen here and there.  Now let me just say, doing this randomly on public land is probably not a great idea, but the places I was going I was about as sure as I can be that there were no other humans.  Not only was it a limited entry hunt, but I was far from a parking area.  And of course I was liberally covered in blaze orange.

The hunt was antlered-only, so the two does that I might have had a shot at didn't count but it was still a lot of fun.   On the road along the far western edge of the forest I found where another hunter got lucky at some point, a dried brown crusty puddle of blood in the sand with clear drag marks leading to the south.  That one had a long walk, unless they came in from some private land adjacent.  

To complete the loop I had to do some serious bushwacking through intense briar beds.  A few times it seemed that if I fell I might bleed out from the thorns before I extracted myself.  

It was a really nice hike.

Skunk Ape print along a woods road. 
View from the parking area, right as I made it back.

Chapter 3:  Big Guns

By the time my General Gun permit for Goethe rolled around I was centered again and more into a morning in a tree.  I purposefully signed up for the second of the three slots, three days mid-week.  However, I didn't anticipate being as low on vacation hours as I am now, so I picked the one day with the best forecast and went with a morning hunt. 

I have to say getting there went well.  I was able to follow my landmarks in the dark with no problem (figures since this would be the last trip for a while) and was up my tree with Aunt Mary's .270 in plenty of time.

I tried something that I've never used before, one of those "Buck Bombs".  Yeah, just what it sounds like.  Much like a flea bomb but instead pumping aerosolized doe estrus urine into the general area.  I can't say that it made a difference.  That is, besides making me feel slightly like an idiot for paying $9.95 for a can of deer piss to spray into the air. 

The weather was nice and cool, no need for the Therma-Cell.  It was a bit overcast at first but the low clouds started to break up around the time the sun cleared the pines.  Knowing that this would be my last and only gun hunt in Florida this year (unless something unexpected comes up) gave me some determination that chased away antsiness.  Later in the morning I saw a red-tailed hawk make an attempt at a squirrel in the distance, the woods were pretty excited for a couple of minutes after that.  Ultimately, however, despite being covered in a fine mist of sexy doe pee, no bucks showed up.

I climbed down around 10:30 and made it back to my desk shortly after Noon.  

Pines and Cypress from my stand, after the clouds started to clear.

Thanksgiving is almost upon us.  I actually forgot until today that it's doe week on private land in the zone I live in, its pretty irrelevant this year, since I currently have no private land to hunt.   However, hope is with me because we will be going to SC to visit the family for the holiday.  My brother and cousin George both have stands for me to hunt, so we'll see what happens.  Next Saturday is a doe day up there.  Might need to buy a freezer when I get back.

Tragic plane crash in The Smokys.  Not really, just some dumbass threw a styrofoam glider off the Jump Off.