Saturday, November 15, 2008

Not domestic enough to be captive

What I won't do for a man with a pair of expensive, German-made binoculars, a decent pair of leather boots, and a heavily used Roger Tory Peterson field guide. The great thing about birding is, you can do it anywhere in every season. City. Country. Foreign. Domestic. It's a way to be outside, but not idle. And birds are cool. I have a hummingbird tatted on my lower back (it's a well-done tramp stamp, honestly!). The hummer is dipping his little beak into a bright orange flower. I have a yard full of feeders, my favorite one being St. Francis, whose feeder dish fills up with water, so I have to tip the rainwater into the oregano before I re-fill it. He seems to enjoy the attention. Now that I think about it, I have a thing for hand-tied fishing flies. All those lovely feathers, the tiniest bits of them, done up in miniature, tied and twisted into fake bugs and used to lure finned creatures up from the bottom, up to the surface, for a bite.

I was dusting today -- with a feather duster -- and came to a clear glass vase. Inside was a pheasant feather that I thought looked "autumnal" when I was attempting to give the house some decorative spice a few weeks ago. I took it out and ran it down my cheek, along my neck and to my collar bone. The fine, stiff tip felt good on my skin.

I was raised on a very small farm -- a hobby farm -- but we took the whole thing pretty seriously. We had an Ark full of animals. Chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, horses, cows, ducks, dogs, cats..... Once, in a dramatic barnyard moment when I was about 13, I saved a dying newborn lamb with mouth-to-mouth. Real farmer stuff.
My father always had some kind of animal-related scheme working around in his head. For awhile he thought he'd make a killing raising llamas for wool and fantasized about using them for pack animals in the Wallowa Mountains of Oregon. He'd take tourists on backpacking trips and they wouldn't have to carry a thing! They'd marvel at Oregon's "little Switzerland" while munching unburdened on Gorp and singing around the campfire at night wrapped in thick llama wool blankets spun and woven by my mother. That never happened, but I'm pretty sure he still has all of the "make millions on llamas" brochures that he sent for.

There was the rabbit operation that flopped. "Imagine!" Dad said. "Just imagine how many rabbits could fit in the barn. Stack up the hutches, one one top of another and let them multiply!" Dad had grandiose plans for his bunny empire. He just knew he was going to make a fortune turning the little place into a rabbit farm. Well, they bred easily enough, but then it came time to butcher the pervy bastards. Dad was never a hunter or anything like that. He just couldn't bring himself to kill them, eat them, or tan their horny little hides. Not hundreds of them anyway.

My favorite of his farmer schemes was the big one that got away -- the Golden Pheasants. Dad was going to get rich quick raising exotic birds. He built a nice aviary out of chicken wire and pine boards and ordered his breeding stock. We marveled at them for a month or so before the flighty birds escaped. They didn't go far, which was maddening for him because he could hear their distinct wing beat and call out in the field beyond our house. He knew they were out there somewhere, but knew they were wild and gone for good. He ordered more. The jailbreaks continued. After a few tries, he gave up.

I rooted for llamas and put up with the rabbits, but I was glad when the golden fowl escaped. They seemed too beautiful for cages, not domestic enough to be captive. They flew with grace, not all floppy and awkward like chickens. I enjoyed seeing them every now and then as free birds. They'd get startled in the field where our neighbor pastured his black Angus herd. They'd shoot straight up, the males all gold and teal and bright rusty orange underneath, the elegant tail arcing beneath them. That field is now a crop of houses, the pretty birds all gone and replaced with squawking jays. I tried to find the sound of their wings or the male's call on the Internet, with no luck.

My milk goat's name was Minnie Pearl. I showed her at the fair and told her all my secrets. We used her good milk and goose eggs to make rich honey cornbread. I was going to cook up some chicken for dinner tonight, but I think I'll spare the feathered friends for today.

We'll have this instead. Good served with tomato soup, sliced cucumbers and a bright, brisk pinot.

Chevre Chaud au Berre Rouge
Hot goat cheese on toast with red wine sauce
adapted from The Vegetarian Bistro

8 baguette slices
8-12 ounces aged goat cheese with rind
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup good dry red wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt, pepper & sugar to taste
2 tablespoons chopped chervil
Mixed baby greens

Toast the baguette slices on one side. Slice goat cheese and arrange on the untoasted side of the bread. Dot tops with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside.

Combine shallots, garlic and wine in a small saucepan. Cook until reduced to about 3 tablespoons, add balsamic vinegar. Reduce heat to low, season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Whisk in remaining butter, stir until sauce thickens slightly. Remove from heat.

Broil toasts until the cheese lightly browns in spots. Cut each slice of toast into quarters or halves.

To serve, spoon some hot sauce onto a plate. Top the sauce with the hot toasts and garnish with greens and chervil.

Serve immediately!


Neve Black said...

Tuning into your blog is like the food network/spice channel all in one. I'm going to have to find my apron and get started on some of these delicious, mouth-watering recipes.

Thanks for sharing the history of your dad's animal related get rich ideas with us - too funny, yet interesting.

Craig Sorensen said...

Hi Kirsten,

I loved this post, and it struck a chord with some things that went on in my life the last few days. So, once again I've mentioned you in my blog (seems I'm doing a lot of that lately.)

Have a nice Monday!