Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale

This is the real deal. Local color and then some! If there are any city slickers in the crowd they are artfully camouflaged. It reminded me of the days of the Iowa State Fair every sultry August in Des Moines. The difference is it's not sultry and it's a lot smaller. Other than that it is all about the family business and is the event of the year to show off what you have and what you do if you are a ranch family. Just like the State Fair. Everybody is here. Grandma and Grandpa, mom and dad, the kids, the family dog. You see (and hear) a few young adults that have been drinking Bloody Marys since 8:30 that morning but they’re in the minority.

Kudlac Ranch's "11K9" from Grant's Pass, Oregon

The ranch families are here to show and sell some of their fine ranch animals to the highest bidder. They have bulls, stock horses, mules and stock dogs. Again, like the Iowa State Fair you see big gorgeous stock that are groomed and curried and blown dry to resemble very, very large stuffed toys. Remember the image of the pawing, fire snorting demon in the field next to Gramma’s place? You won’t find one here. Here the bulls stand patiently like Ferdinand waiting to be given a flower while their humans pamper them. The bulls are the Buddhas of the animal world. And don’t they have the best job in the world? After they’re sold they are bound for the best job on the planet. All they do is romance the lady cows and eat. They, themselves, will never grace the table of the local steak house. What a life! No wonder they are so content!

Elsewhere at the Sale you find the amazing stock dogs. Most of them are border collies with a work ethic that is unsurpassed. Upon release they jet their way at lightening speed across the vast field to the small cow herd. They turn on a dime to corner and stare down an animal 10 times their size and then move the herd back across the field turning them this way and that until they reach a small pen. Then if they are lucky and adept they’re able to turn the cows into the small pen and hold them there. Some of the cows are more stubborn and wily than others and the judges take this into consideration. Here’s the living embodiment of the phrase “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” The dogs work so hard and hot that near the end of their run some of them plop down in the muddy water that was left from the rain. You can almost hear the sizzle.

There’s the cutting part of the weekend and everybody attends this. As a matter of fact all of the events are well attended. There’s nothing here that doesn’t interest the crowd. All of the events are part of a ranch’s stock in trade. The dogs are an integral part as are the horse and bulls. Without these animals the ranch can function but not as well. The horses show off how they can cut out a cow from the herd and keep it from getting back. They also show how they can pen a cow and how they are being roped off of. Ordinary people have no clue how much a good dog or horse can help a rancher. Poorly trained horses are a danger and a hindrance. A motor driven vehicle like a Gator works better than a horse that is not into his job. But if a rancher has a good horse he can go many places a vehicle can’t. The riders are all adept as their horses. There’s even a young girl that the crowd cheers wildly for as she guides her horse around the cows.

The trade show is part practical and part fun. I find a moderately priced pair of stirrups and a felt saddle pad with Navajo blanket. Mostly the items for sale are ranch related equipment but you see the odd vendor that offers packing equipment. Especially sweet is the radiant heat contraption and we stand in front of one of their models as it billows out warmth on this rainy January morning.

Marty indulges in a corn dog. We hear a few comments like “Isn’t this why we came here?” from passers-by. I resist and go for the wood fired pizza which is delicious and has healthy toppings. But then the next day I indulge in an Indian taco. There’s something about that deep fried bread dough. Hmmmm, hmmm, hmmm! Crunchy on the outside and warm and creamy on the inside. Don’t think about the implication as you eat it. I can live without the hamburger meat, lettuce, grated cheese and refried beans piled high on top. It’s that bread that I’m really digging for.

If you’re ever in Northern California the last week in January stop in on the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale. You won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My Nemesis

My Nemesis

Call me a “dinosaur”. Call me what you will. There’s something about a computer that doesn’t get along with me. I use them grudgingly. Once in great while I even love them. Most of the time it’s just an uneasy truce between me and that whirring, buzzing contraption at my feet. The only time I loved them consistently was when I was working in the Big City for the “Corporate World”. In the corporate world nothing is too good. You have to have the latest of everything. The fastest. The cutest. The most hip. And, most importantly, you have the IT guys when things go ka-flooey. Now that I live on a ranch all that is a wistful memory. I’m alone in my office with “the beast”. It’s “him” or me and usually the winner is “him”. I am forced to find ways to get along with “him”.

Part of the problem is that in the boondocks one cannot have cable or any kind of fast internet connection. One is forced to have a satellite connection. Just think about it. Your internet connection goes way out into outer space, looks around in vain for a teeny tiny blip in the cosmos called your provider’s satellite and if it’s lucky enough to find it then the signal has to be bounced all the way back down to terra firma and look around for whatever server you wanted it to go to. When you think about it this way you marvel at the miracle that it works at all. Who are these geeks who thought this up and engineered it? I grovel at their feet for their genius. Now if only their genius could figure out how to work out the bugs in the system I might actually worship them as the new messiah. In the meantime they’re just fallible human beings who are pretty darn smart and I am still the frustrated computer user I always was.

Recently I have concocted a system of Zen-like patience every time the computer locks up or is excruciatingly slow. Then I unplug it and start over or hit the restart button and wait. There’s no use getting mad and trying baseball therapy. Baseball therapy is smashing the computer into tiny fragments with a baseball bat. If I did that I’d still be in the same place I was before. Maybe I’d have a sense of satisfaction but it’d be clouded by the fact that now I’d have to spend hundreds of dollars to get a new one.

Yes, you can call me a dinosaur. I remember when telephones were party lines and you could listen in to your neighbor’s calls. I remember when getting information meant a trip to the library to wander the aisles or talk to the librarian (a real person in front of you not thousands of miles away who was called “Susie” and who spoke with a foreign accent). I remember when an upgrade to that meant your Mom and Dad ponied up and bought you the Encyclopedia Britannica so you could spend hot summer days on the cool of the porch reading and reading and reading. It’s not better or worse. It’s just what it is.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Imagine Life

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. They are Work, Family, Health, Friends and Spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air.

You will soon learn that Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – Family, Health, Friends and Spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these they will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for it.”
– 30 Second Speech by Bryan Dyson – Former CEO of Coca Cola
I promised that I would make some suggestions about how to use Duck Confit. I'm going to make a couple recipes. One for myself and one for Pa. Pa doesn't eat vegetables. He's tough to cook for. Or easy depending how you look at it. I’m pretty sure Pa’s eating preferences were arrested at age 8 because his favorite all time foods are pepperoni pizza and cheese enchiladas. He loves any plain meat and anything white. So if you served him mashed potatoes or spaghetti with meat you’d be doing all right. He also likes his meat cooked until it’s a little on the burned side. He wants to make sure it’s cooked all the way through. So when I’m thinking about how to serve the duck I have to make sure I think of Pa while I’m doing it.
So I’m going to make rice noodles with the confit for him. I got Pa to try Vietnamese food once because they have very yummy grilled meats and white rice. He loved it! It’s not that he won’t try anything at all and if you were with company he’d eat the veggies they serve and not die. It’s just his strong preference.
I’m going to make creamy sauerkraut gratin with the confit for me. It’s a recipe from Alsace-Lorraine where my ancestors are from. I know it sounds like an odd combination but I assure you that it’s delectable. My ancestors came to the New World with their recipes and landed in Quebec first. Then those folks hitched up with some folks fleeing the Kaiser and his Prussian conscription and the rest is history. The ancestral food is heavy on the calories and nourishing for hard work. They were farmers but it’s suitable for ranch life, too.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Cooking Wild Game

Cooking Wild Game

When you live on a ranch there is ample opportunity to get wild game. Either your mate hunts or you know people that do. I don’t hunt and neither does my partner. Sidebar: By the way some bloggers have cute names for their mates like “Marlboro Man” or “Woodrow” but unfortunately I think I have to call my partner “Pa Kettle”. This is the subject of another blog. Today we’re talking about wild game. You'll just have to be patient about Pa.
In the city you have to go to specialty markets and pay through the nose for wild game. On a ranch the game practically shows up on your doorstep and always free of charge. Ranch people don’t like to waste good meat and besides, ranch people are very, very generous.

So far this season we have been treated to an 11 pound leg of boar, venison, Dungeness crab and salmon. Recently we were treated to duck roasted in an outdoor wood oven. Yum! Then, on the tails of that, we were offered two uncooked, cleaned ducks. I jumped at the chance because I’ve always wanted to try making Duck Confit which I love almost as much as Pa. Duck Confit is a very simple preparation that was originally esteemed as a preservation method. Keeping duck in rendered fat results in moist and flavorful meat that I, personally, think is out of this world. Once prepared in such a way you can use it in a variety of dishes. Here ya go. My version of Duck Confit with respect, gratitude and accolades to Epicurious from which I got the original 4 star recipe. By the way, leave it to the French, they have a pronounciation for everything. Confit is pronounced "cone-fee" not "con-fit".


3 tablespoons salt (I use kosher salt)

4 cloves of garlic, smashed

1 shallot, peeled and sliced (If I have no shallots I use whatever onion I have on hand but because shallots are mild I use a bit less)

6 sprigs of thyme (my kitchen garden died a while back so I use dried. Imagine how 6 sprigs would look dried and use that much)

Coarse ground black pepper

4 ducks, cleaned but with skin on (if the ducks are whole like mine were I get the cleaver and chop them in half laterally not longitudinally. You can also cut them in parts. It’s up to you.)

About 4 cups of duck fat (here’s where we get creative. If your ducks are fatty and corn fed you’re in luck but if they’re rice fed ducks like we have here in California you will find that they are lean. In that case I use good quality olive oil. You can use bacon grease, too. I have it on good report that It's All Good)


1.                          Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the salt in the bottom of a glass dish large enough to hold the duck pieces in a single layer. Evenly scatter half the garlic, shallots (or onions) and thyme on the bottom of the container. Arrange the duck, skin-side up, over the salt mixture, then sprinkle the top of the duck with the remaining salt, garlic, shallots (of onions) and thyme. Grind a little pepper over it. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days.

2.                          Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. If you’re using duck fat or bacon grease, melt it in a small saucepan. Brush or rinse the salt and seasonings off the duck. Arrange the duck pieces in a single snug layer in a high-sided baking dish or ovenproof pan. A lidless small dutch oven works great for this. Pour the melted fat or olive oil over the duck making sure the duck is covered with fat. (Yes, it’s a lot of fat! This is what makes it good! Anyway, you aren’t going to be eating all this fat. But you can use it for other things later) Place the confit in the oven. Cook the confit slowly at a very slow simmer – just an occasional bubble – until the duck is tender and can be easily pulled from the bone. It might take 2-4 hours depending on the duck and your oven. Remove the confit from the oven. Cool and store the duck in the fat. It will keep in the fridge for several weeks. Now all you need to do is dream up any recipe you can think of for using the duck.
Next blog – some ideas for using Duck Confit.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Bad Dog

Bad Dog

Every ranch has dogs. We have two. We have a McNab border collie pup and a refugee from the Oakland Animal Shelter. The refugee is a chow mix. I guess. The orange color and lion-like ruff around the neck is right. There’s black on the tongue but that’s about it. He’s light and lithe and so interested in digging things out there must be some terrier in there somewhere. He did so much hill work chasing squirrels all summer long he’s now buff like Beckham the British soccer star.

He’s about a good as he wants to be. His name is Teddy which is short for Theodore O’Connor.  Theodore O’Connor was a 3-day eventing pony owned by the world renowned O’Connor’s who competed with him in the Rolex Kentucky. My daughter was into eventing at the time we got the dog. It seemed like the right name for him. The pony passed away but the dog is very much alive. He’s about a good as he wants to be.

You know when he’s being bad because you’ll come in the front door of the ranch house and you hear a thump coming from the bedroom and you immediately realize you forgot to close the bedroom door. Mr. Good as He Wants to Be has been on the master’s bed. He knows he isn’t supposed to be in there and that’s why he gets off the minute he hears the door open. I don’t know what’s going on in that walnut brain of his. Does he think he can fool us? He’s usually filthy from digging out ground squirrels so not only is it bad form to be on the master’s bed but I wind up doing too much laundering of the spread because he leaves a dog size print of dirt when he gets up there. You see his naughty little face and you can almost hear the excuse, “Um, I was just making sure everything was ok in there! Just doing my job!” In our house the dog is Garfield and the cat is Odie.

Bad dog! No, bad master! You have to thump yourself on the side of your head because you know you’ve failed again in being clear on what you want as the Alpha. How clever must a person be to lord it over a 35 pound orange thing who is slightly deranged for reasons obscured by his Oakland past. He’s very willing to be head cheese. Where is Cesar Milan when you need him?

Clever indeed! If you’re going to town you must be surreptitious about it and get the pooch inside his pen before he gets wind that a motor vehicle is involved. If you don’t there’s the inevitable stare-down at the side of the truck. He’s not going anywhere he doesn’t want to go and right now he wants to go in the truck. So out comes the leash. Grabbing him by the collar and pulling could get you bitten. If you do bestow privileges and let him go with you the same routine happens at the end of the ride because now he doesn’t want to get out!

            But we love him. He’s dependable and can be out on his own. He’s a stupendous watch dog. No stranger will get by him! He also wants to stay near us so when we let him out to lay waste to ground squirrels we know he will be back. He’ll be laying on the front door step, lord of all he surveys. The ground squirrels always escape. He’s never gotten one but this does not deter. Nay! Tomorrow is another day. He personifies the best in us for purpose and focus. I can learn from that.