Hunting 102b: Senate Bill 1221… Dogs and Bobcats and Bears, Oh My!

Yesterday, as I was picking up my lunch at Dad’s Sandwiches I overheard two people talking about SB1221. These people were, according to their conversation, in favor of the bill and possibly on the lobbying team in support of it, which is contrary to my position on the bill. I also had to explain this particular issue to my aunt and mother this past weekend, because my aunt has a close friend who is in support of the bill and who was one of the 150 people to go speak at the hearing on June 26th (compared to the 7,000 who showed up in opposition). What I want from you guys is for you to understand the bill, why it is a threat to all hunting, and why you should write your Assemblyman and the Committee members. And to try to clarify some of the misconceptions surrounding the bill.

SB 1221 is a bill that would ban hunting bear and bobcat with dogs. Right now it just passed the Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee in a second, closed-session after an overwhelming outcry and attendance by the hunting and hounding community and a no-vote on Tuesday. It has already passed the Senate (by 2 votes). Next it goes to the Appropriations Committee, then the Assembly floor, then the Governor. This bill is something that is attempted every few years in some form of restricting use of dogs for hunting, but has gained momentum this year because of political posturing regarding the Fish and Game commission president legally harvesting a mountain lion in Idaho. I tried to find an unbiased article still up, it was a little tough. For the record, Commissioners are appointed by the Governor, and make no more than $500 a month. They are not legislators. They are in place to provide independent oversight to the Department of Fish and Game in regulatory matters.

Why is SB 1221 bad? Well, here are the reasons. The bill is based on emotion and perception, not science. The funding behind the bill is the Humane Society, which has stated, point-blank, that they want to ban all hunting in California, and then move on to other states to do the same. That alone is enough for me to not support it, because it is based on emotion, on a well-funded minority agenda, and not on science. There is the actual wording of the bill if you are like me and want to read it for yourself.

It is also based on one group of people wanting to impose their will onto another group of people. If you don’t like hunting, that is fine. But until you have gone out and experienced it, you do not have anything to base an opinion on except your perception. Personally, I don’t like noodling , but I am not going to try to tell those of you that like it (or want to try it) that you shouldn’t. I have never done noodling. I would not find anything enjoyable about wading around muddy water trying to get a fish to bite my fingers, or shoving my fist down a fish’s mouth. But hey, if that’s how you want to spend your Saturday, who am I do try to stop you? If you’re reasonable, you are nodding your head in agreement. Where have all the reasonable people gone??

These are the facts: The bear population is California is exploding (for biological reasons, and an increase tag limit would help), and the bill takes away the most effective tool for managing the bear population. And the state makes money by allowing it. Not to mention the thousands of families and people that earn a living running hounds. End of story! If this bill passes, then the state is going to be on the hook for hunting bears that become public safety hazards, AND those bears legally cannot be consumed, the carcass HAS to be destroyed, by law. Does the state have extra money laying around to pay people to hunt bears, when people are PAYING to do it now? No, last time I checked it doesn’t.

How to hunt bear and bobcat with dogs: Hounds (think Where the Red Fern Grows) are trained to scent bears and bobcats, then, as a pack, chase the animals into a tree, baying and howling to alert the hunters to where the pack is. It is in these dogs’ nature to chase and ‘bay’. In this day and age a lot of hunters put radio collars on their dogs, so they can find the dogs. And not just when the dogs have treed an animal, but when the dogs get lost (which happens regularly) or when the dogs are picked up on the road after getting lost. I have heard stories of dogs being kidnapped and the hunters tracking the dogs to the people’s house to retrieve the dog. And these are not cheap dogs, mind you. Good hounds are just like other good hunting dogs, and can command prices over $1500. Times that by at least 4, and usually 6 dogs in a pack. That is a pretty hefty investment for a past time, not to mention the vet bills, the FOOD, gas to drive to the field, etc.

Why hunt bear with dogs? Several reasons. When I lived in Humboldt I worked and played in bear country. I worked on timberland and worked and socialized with foresters and timber biologists. I saw a few bears in the field, but more often I heard them, crashing through the brush moving away from me, unseen. Where the bears liked to be were areas not very accessible, and if you wanted to hunt bears there, you used hounds. Because of the steep canyons, dense underbrush, and sometimes hazardous terrain due to timber harvest, just hiking around is very hard, and if pursuing game, is basically impossible. Bear hunting is nothing like the ‘ideal’ scene of a deer or elk hunt, where the animal stands broadside to you on the edge of a meadow where you have no trees, bushes or shrubs in the way, you can clearly identify the animal and if it is legal, and have a clear line of sight. When you bear hunt, you do not have a clear line of sight, essential to identifying your prey and taking a clean shot. This is why dogs are used, to find the bears, and to tree them. Bears’ natural defense mechanism (like porcupine’s quills, or opossums playing dead) is to climb a tree. They do not run up trees because they have no other escape, they do it because it’s what they do. Our hunting methods have developed in response to the prey’s natural methods of evasion. Bear hunting with dogs, or any hunting with dogs for that matter, has been occurring since we domesticated dogs.

Bears are also responsible for up to 90% tree death in some timber harvest plans in Del Norte and Humboldt County. I have seen this with my own eyes. Bears can reach a density of up to 5 bears per square mile and this results in a shortage of forage for the bears to eat. So, as a result of starving, they have started stripping the sugar-dense cambium of the inner layer of bark of redwood and other valuable trees. The timber companies are not able to keep the bear populations down enough to prevent this, even with houndsmen on staff and running dogs, not just for hunting, but for hazing bears away from trees. SB 1221 would prevent the timber industry from using houndsmen to control bear populations, and more depredation bear hunting would take place (which, again, results in the meat not being used). Consumers would see a steep rise in the price of redwood for our decks and raised beds.

The author and supporters of the SB1221 are using the following arguments:

We are not closing hunting for bears: You just won’t be able to use dogs to hunt, so you can hunt them just like you hunt everything else, taking 200-300 yard shots like you do with deer or elk or any other large mammal.

In reality, you are making it virtually impossible to hunt bears, because the people that are effective at hunting bears use hounds to do so in areas where the bear population is high. Hunting bears without hounds will significantly reduce hunter success, and therefore increase the bear population. You will see people just stop hunting bears altogether, not switch to other hunting methods. In addition, when you tree a bear, you are able to look at it from 20-40 yards away before you shoot it, so you are able to tell if it is male or female, and if it’s a female if it has cubs, if it is a young animal or mature, and you have excellent shot placement, which results in almost instant death for the animal most of the time. Contrast that with a 200-300 yard shot, where you don’t have the ability to sex the animal, you have a higher chance of missing or misplacing your shot (so increase chance of maiming or wounding the animal), and it is harder to tell how big an animal is the farther away it is, so you could be shooting a yearling bear instead of a fully mature one. There is no way to see if the bear is a mother with cubs from so far away also. There is also an increased chance that once you shoot the animal and get over to where you think it was when you shot it that you loose its trail, the animal dies slowly in pain, or gets an infection and dies several weeks later, or dies and you cannot find the carcass. All unacceptable things to an ethical hunter, and ineffective as a population control tool.

It’s cruelty to animals:  The bears run up trees because they are terrified, which is cruel, and the dogs get maimed, bit, and clawed by the bears defending themselves. The dogs are not well cared for and are overwhelming animal shelters. Also, you are shooting the bear out of the tree, so when it’s shot it tumbles helplessly to the ground. Hunting with dogs is a form of torture, because you are chasing the animals instead of just shooting it where it stands.

First off, I would like to make the point that wild animals live with the threat from other animals daily. So the stress that we, as humans, associate with being ‘hunted’ in the typically safe environment we live in is an unreasonable comparison. Also, animals do not react to stressful situations in the same way we do. In my opinion, a bear is more annoyed by the dogs than frightened. You have to understand, bears rule the woods in California. Even our ‘small’ Black bears in California are not afraid of mountain lions, and chase lions off their cached deer kills every day (one of the reasons the deer population is on decline btw). Bears do not have anything to be scared of in the woods. So, hungry mountain lion versus pack of barking dogs…. which do you think a bear associates a greater threat to? So the assumption that bears are running up trees because they are terrified and have no where else to go is unfounded, especially when you are familiar with the ecology of bears and their avoidance strategies, like running up a tree.

Houndsmen pay upwards of $1500 a dog, and hounding is not effective unless there is at least 3 dogs in the pack, more is better. I cannot say that every hunter treats their hunting dogs like I do (SPOILED is the word, sleeping on the bed, treats and love all the time, boiled eggs every day, etc) but after reading some of the posts by houndsmen I can say that there are hound dogs that are getting the royal treatment, just like my bird dog. Of course, when looking at the spectrum, there are going to be the good and the bad. But at $1500 a dog, most houndsmen are going to take very good care of their dogs.

It’s not sporting, and it’s trophy hunting: The bears are hunted with dogs so the hunters can take the largest, biggest trophy bears, and the bears are shot at point-blank range out of the tree. The dogs have radio collars so the hunters know where the dogs are at all times, so that is not ‘fair chase’.

Most of the bears taken using hounds are bears used for meat. California is not known for it’s ‘trophy’ bears, so this argument is invalid. Plus, the use of ‘trophy hunting’ makes people think that you are just taking the skin or head, and in fact, bear meat is very tasty and makes great sausage! Hunters hunt bears for meat (amazing, I know!) and population control, so just the use of  ‘trophy hunting’ is uncalled for.

Also, the bears are not shot at point-blank range. I have yet to see a hunter climb up into a tree to shoot a bear within arm reach. Yes, the shots are taken at a shorter range that most other hunting is done, but that is an ideal situation. The closer a hunter can get to the prey, the better the shot placement, and the easier it is to clearly identify the individual animal and its particulars, such as sex, size, lactating or not. As one of the houndsmen said on the 26th, hunting bear and bobcats with dogs is the only form of ‘catch and release’ hunting.

The idea that hunting this way is not ‘fair chase’ represents a complete difference of opinion. I have not hunted bear this way. So I defer to my friends that have. According to them, hunting bears with dogs is not ‘easier’, it’s just more exact. There is still the chasing of the baying dogs into canyons and out of valleys, through dense brush and forest. Using collars on the dogs does not prevent this. Without the dogs putting pressure on the bear to get into a tree there would be no way for a hunter on foot to catch up to a bear, let alone have the chance at a clear shot when the animal is calm enough to hold still.  Hunting bears would become incidental. An animal not moving, close enough to identify clearly, and calm enough for a good shot placement is an ideal situation. It leads to a quick, relatively pain-free death.

Other states have banned hunting bears with dogs: California is behind the times, 14 other states have banned hunting bears with hounds, so we should be progressive and ban it too!

The other states that have banned hunting bears with dogs that the HSUS cites are: Montana, Colorado, Washington, Pennsylvania, and Oregon. Washington has it banned for hunters, but when they have to do any bear work, they use Karelian Bear Dogs. I know this because I trained in WA for animal restraint, and it was awesome watching these dogs in action. According to the representative from Oregon, as a result of the banning of bear hunting with dogs the state has had to hunt and kill over 300 bears that became public safety issues, compared to 3 before the ban. The other states have grizzly bears. Seriously. Look at this map please. You don’t hunt bears with dogs in states that have grizzly bears. Well except Pennsylvania, I don’t know what’s going on there.

How it is Supposed to Work:  DFG Biologists do monitoring surveys, collect data from hunter take surveys, do research in the field and in the library, and write papers and reports. Program managers take that science, and other science conducted by other reputable biologists and synthesize (oooh buzzword!) it with the management goals of the program and the department, and try to prioritize that with budget constraints and legislative mandates. They set seasons and bag limits, hunt zones, method of take, and author new regulations or change existing ones, based on SCIENCE. Then those changes are reviewed and approved (or not) by the Fish and Game Commission, a group of people appointed by the Governor.

BUT, if this bill passes, just like Prop 117, it takes away the ability of the Department of Fish and Game to manage the species that fall under its mandate. If you are going to allow the legislature to regulate how wildlife is managed in this state, what you do you need a Department of Fish and Game for? No one is listening to the scientists about HOW to manage game species, and groups like the HSUS are using the emotions and sympathies of uninformed people to support their cause and agenda. Which, make NO mistake, is to END hunting, and eventually ownership of animals.

So please, get active, get involved in your local shooting or hunting chapter, write your representatives. Because when they are done with us hunters, they are coming for you farmers.

Hunting 102: Where the Wild Things Are, and Are Not

So, I am back to civilization after spending a week chasing mountain lions in Mendocino National Forest (yes, there are jobs where you get paid to harass wildlife, and that is a future blog post).

After carefully considering my previous question (see Hunting 101) I am sure you are all ready to charge into the wilds, guns blazing, right?? Maybe not so much…

Ask yourself what you want to hunt, what are your end goals (this ties into Hunting 101 a bit). Do you want to fill your freezer? Do you want to dip your toes to see if you like it before you commit to it? Do you want to hunt only nuisance and non-natives because that speaks to you more ethically? What habitat do you find you spend the most time in, or what animals have you wanted to get close to the most? Maybe you want to learn all you can about your quarry before venturing forth (this is my favorite answer, so extra bonus points). Answering this question also helps break up what seems a huge, life-altering activity into smaller, more manageable parts. You don’t have to immerse yourself whole-hog (I had to!). Dabble. I give you permission. In fact, I encourage it, because the more people there are that hunt that don’t reek of the quintessential ‘Bubba Hunter Extraordinaire’ the better!

Breaking it down also helps with the gear. Because, as with all human activities, there is gear involved. Most of you are on a budget and can’t run out and get all the goodies right away. Good thing I know this! Some groups of prey are easier to start with, based on skill level and gear requirements. My favorite is Upland Game Birds (this happens to be where my concentration is too), so my example is this: For first time Upland hunters, you need a gun, a pair of boots, ideally an upland hunting dog, and maybe a vest to carry food, water, ammo, and dead birds in. Contrast that to waterfowl hunting in a blind (what I grew up with) you need a boat probably, gun, waders, decoys, inclement weather gear and clothing, something to sit on, food and coffee, a retrieving dog, something to carry everything with, the skill to call ducks, and the skill to set up decoys. Whew!

Every animal (and human for that matter) has particular habitat needs. These needs fall into one of five categories: Food, Water, Cover, Space, and Arrangement. They differ for every animal species. Part of knowing your prey is to know their needs, and at what times of the year. All of these elements together is called HABITAT. And habitat is the key to everything. But more on that next time.

So, to make this easier, I am going to break it down, CA DFG-style. There is stuff you can hunt, and stuff you can’t. If it is an animal you can legally ‘take’ in CA, I have listed it below.

Game groups in CA are broken into the following groups for regulations and seasons:

Upland Game Birds: Pheasant, Quail (California or Valley quail, mountain quail, Gambel’s or desert quail), Chukar (or Red-Legged Partridge), Sage Grouse, Sooty and Ruffed Grouse, White-tailed Ptarmigan, Wild Turkey, Band-tailed Pigeon, Doves (Mourning, white-winged, spotted, Eurasian collared, and ringed turtle-doves), and Common snipe.

Waterfowl: American Coot and Common Moorhen, Ducks and Mergansers (including Mallard, Pintail, Canvasback, Redheads, Greater and Lesser Scaup, American Widgeon, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged and Cinnamon Teal, Common, Hooded, and Red-breasted Merganser, plus other uncommon ducks). Geese (Includes the categories Dark Geese: including Canada, cackling, aleutian, and white-fronted or “specklebelly’, Large Canada Geese: include western Canada geese “honker” and lesser Canada geese “lessers”, Small Canada Geese: include cackling and Aleutain geese, White Geese include Ross’ and Snow geese, and Black Brant).

Large Mammals: Deer (Black-tailed deer and Mule deer), Black bear, Feral hog (or wild pig), Elk (Tule Elk, Rocky Mountain Elk, and Roosevelt Elk), Pronghorn Antelope, and Nelson Bighorn Sheep.

Resident Small Game (or Small Mammals): Includes Tree Squirrels, Brush, Cottontail, and Pygmy Rabbits, Varying Hare (or Snowshoe Hare), and Black and White-tailed Jackrabbits.

Furbearing Mammals: Badger, Gray Fox, Muskrat, Mink, Beaver, and Racoon.

Non-Game: American Crow, Coyote, English sparrow, starling, weasels, skunks, opossum, moles, and rodents (excluding tree and flying squirrels, and those listed as furbearers, endangered or threatened species).

Next time: Hunting 103: Habitat, Schmabitat

Hunting 101: The Good, The Bad, and The Bloody

Why are you reading this blog entry? Seriously. Have you thought about it? Most of you have had the opportunity to ask yourself this question, but for the rest of you I will pose it now: Why, in the name of everything that is holy, would you want to start hunting?

I ask this in all seriousness. We, in our infinitely-advanced socially-conscious society, have the ability to raise all the meat our diet requires. We can (and sometimes) do so in a humane, controlled environment designed to raise the healthiest, happiest, disease-free meatsacks known to the history of Man, outside of Eden. And we don’t even have to be involved in the process. All we have to do is fork over a couple $2.99/lb debit charges to have someone we don’t even meet raise, kill, clean, butcher, and store our protein for us. You do not even have to get your hands dirty, let alone bloody and gross.

So why do you want to learn how to hunt? Do you have an answer yet? It absolutely boggles my mind, in America, that this is something you need to have, but it is. Because, as some of you have come to realize, even if you are not bothering your fellow Man with your activities, your activities might, in fact, bother them. Vehemently.

I want to use this blog to teach you DIYers all about hunting (and fishing too!) in California and elsewhere, about the mechanics, method, and art of it. But I also want to use it as a way to educate you about what is going on in the world of wildlife science & management, wildlife legislation, and how hunting is, for lack of a better phrase, a way of life worth saving. I also want YOU to educate ME about what this new generation of hunters needs, in the way of support, education, and connectivity. Because without it, without you caring and advocating, I fear our children will have no choice but to buy their meat in pretty packages, and the joy of homemade elk sausage and wild pheasant raviolis will be lost.

Most of you are familiar with this concept, because of your choice to be an active participant in your food-shed, however big or small that may be. Hunting… , should you choose to accept this mission, is going to take you to a whole other level (past 11!). What I am getting out of this is if I can educate and inspire even ONE of you, I can die happy. But I’d be lying if I wasn’t hoping for many more. And if you’re just interested in increasing your zombie apocalypse skill-set, by all means, I will cover that as well.

So, back to it. Your reason for hunting? Do you have it, is it firmly in mind? Maybe write it down. If you have more than one that is even better. Here are some examples:

  • I want to be an active participant in my food-shed and hunting is the next progression in that.
  • I want to eat the free-est range, most organic meat possible!
  • I learned valuable lessons from hunting, and want to continue that with my children.
  • If God didn’t want us to eat animals, he wouldn’t have made them out of meat, or so delicious.
  • I want to hunt because animals have evolved with humans over the past 40,000 years and it’s our responsibility to manage their populations so that future generations can enjoy consumptive and non-consumptive use of our wildlife.

I will give you one guess what my reason is. Well, it is ONE of the many reasons I hunt. But it is the biggest reason as to why I chose my career.

So WHY is having a reason important? Because, at some point you will have to defend your choice to do so. And to make matters worse,  the ability to hunt is not a right. I want to make that clear. It’s like having a driver license. Or, apparently, growing your own food. The privilege of hunting can be taken away. By the Grace of your Legislators do you retain the ability to go forth and harvest your own wild meat. This is why I spoke of advocating earlier. Because we are coming to a point in California, when the ability to hunt is being questioned, and certain groups are actively trying to insure that you lose this privilege. The future of hunting in America is, literately, in your hands.

Next time: Hunting 102:  Where the Wild Things Are, and Are Not.


Catching some Levain (aka Sourdough Starter)

San Francisco is famous for their sourdough bread which runs wild around there. Fortunately we can all catch our own wild sourdough starter, which is also called levain. Levain is the French term for sourdough starter and has been used for centuries to make bread. Bread made with Levain may even be healthier for you than breads made with commercial yeast. Sourdough actually has a lower glycemic index than regular bread. The levain also breaks down phytic acid in grains. Phytic acid blocks the absorption of minerals and vitamins. Levain also shows promise for people that are intolerant of gluten because it helps degrade and deactivate the proteins that adversely affect people.

Nowadays you can purchase commercial sourdough starter, but what fun is that? Plus you can’t boast that you actually caught the wild levain that made your bread. The bonus is that it’s super easy to do and doesn’t take much, but you don’t have to tell others that. Go ahead and let them think it took you days of complicated procedures to obtain.

So are you ready to get blown away? To catch a levain all you need is some flour and an equal amount of water in a wide mouth container or bowl. Yep, that’s pretty much all you need. And all you do is mix the flour and water together and set it outside for a couple of days. Bring it in, keep it in a relatively warm spot and once it starts to form bubbles on the surface you can go ahead and store it in the fridge. The only thing you do need to do is occasionally feed it equal parts of flour and water once a day. It should have a slightly sour smell to it, which is a good thing. You can keep your levain going for as long as you’re willing to take care of it, or if something goes wrong like it gets moldy.

So how do you use your levain? I like to make a nice no-knead artisan bread with it. The following recipe makes two loaves or one really big one if you’re up for it. However, for a larger loaf the baking times will be longer.

In a large bowl mix together 3 cups warm water (about 110 deg F), 1-1/2 Tbs kosher salt and 1/2 cup of your levain. Add 7-1/2 cups flour and mix. It should be a wet dough, but not sloppy. When you measure the flour you want it to be level cups, which you can get by using the flat back edge of a knife to scrape excess flour off evenly.

Cover and allow this to sit for at least two hours in a warm, dark spot. This dough will not rise like breads made with commercial yeast so don’t worry too much. After two hours you can put it in the fridge to store or make a loaf right away. The dough, because it’s wet, is much easier to handle when it’s cold though, so I usually put it in the fridge for about 2 hours before I plan to bake it.

When I’m ready I pull out half of the dough and while working quickly I shape it into a ball by pulling the top down over the sides stretching it. I then place this ball in a bowl that is lined with a heavily floured non-terry cloth towel. Sprinkle a bit of flour on top and then cover with the edges of the towel. Allow it to rest and do a bit more rising for an hour.

40 minutes into the rise place a dutch oven (cast iron of course works the best, but you can use any type as long as it has a lid) in your oven and preheat to 450 deg F. The purpose of the dutch oven is to steam the bread for the first part of the baking. This helps develop a moist crumb while allowing for that real crunchy crust. Of course the heavier the lid the more steaming action you’re going to get, which will further help develop larger holes in the crumb.

When you’re ready to bake pull out the dutch oven and remove the lid. Pick up the towel and bread and quickly (and this can take some practice) and gently roll the dough out of the towel into the hot dutch oven. Quickly put the lid on and put it back in the oven.

Bake with the lid on for 30 minutes then remove the lid and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the crust is completely browned. Don’t overcook though as the bottom can and will burn if left too long.

Remove the bread from the dutch oven  and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool until you can handle it and then serve. You have now mastered the no-knead artisan bread.

A note about ovens and not getting the perfect loaf. Every time I did this recipe it came out well, but not as good as I knew it could be. I always thought I was doing something wrong. When we got our Wedgewood I quickly realized that not all ovens are created equal. Our previous, cheapo oven just couldn’t do the job and it had made me feel inadequate. So if you have a hard time making that perfect loaf of bread it may not be your fault at all, but rather the oven that you are using.


Cajun Spiced Crab Cakes

Every Christmas Eve we have a crab feed at my house. This year was a bit different because Tom and Junior actually went out and caught the crab for the dinner table. They had great luck catching 6 rock crabs and 6 large Dungeness crabs. More than enough for 5 people, one of which wasn’t interested in eating any crab. Eventually we’ll get Junior to enjoy it.

Th first few that were caught

Every year, even when we buy crab, we always have some left over. This year was no exception. My mom always made crab cakes the next day with what was leftover, but of course she’s in Ohio so it was my turn to try my hand at them. Having never made them before I was a bit nervous. But in the end I was really happy with them. So here’s how you can do it too.

1 lb Dungeness Crab meat

1 Egg

2 tsp Cajun Seasoning

1/2 cup Mayonnaise

1 tsp Hot Pepper Sauce

1/4 cup Oats

1 Tbs Lemon Juice

3 Tbs Safflower Oil

Remove all the crab meat from the shell. Grind the oats up. I like to use a coffee grinder as it gets them fairly fine. Add everything except the oil in a bowl.

I made the mayonnaise from scratch. I find that the commercial stuff is a bit too strong when I add it to stuff. I’m not sure what the strong flavor is, but I don’t much care for it. The homemade mayo is much milder and what is left you can use to make an accompanying aioli. Also feel free to add more hot sauce if you wish. A teaspoon doesn’t add much heat at all but rather just builds on the flavor profile.

I was surprised when I mixed this all together just how runny the batter was. Because it had egg in it though it should be able to bind well.

In a hot skillet add the oil over medium high heat and drop spoonfuls of the “batter.” Flatten them with the back of the spoon and then cook until browned. Gently flip and continue to cook until the other side is browned.

Pull the crab cakes out and place on paper towels to allow to drain. Keep them in a warm oven while you cook the rest of the cakes. Serve the crab cakes with any sauce that you would prefer. We like to eat ours with more hot sauce.

The Perennial Plate – Seaside Foraging

The Perennial Plate Episode 68: A Tale of Three Seasides from Daniel Klein on Vimeo.

I’m super excited about this episode because it includes my hunter-gatherer hero, Hank Shaw. I have yet to meet him, but hopefully in the future I will.

Let’s hit the ocean ’cause it’s AB SEASON!

Abalone Diving… Yep.

So this summer I have the opportunity to go abalone diving since I’m living and working on the Mendocino coast in and around Ft. Bragg. I have wanted to go abalone diving for a very long time but have not had the opportunity, mainly because my dad, the former Seal, has repeatedly tried to put the fear of God into me regarding this hazardous, and sometimes deadly, foraging past time. What can I say? I love you dad, but I’m not gonna go around wearing a suit of bubble wrap…

One of the main reasons I got PADI diver certified in 2004 was so I could go spearfishing. Ever since I went snorkeling at Brenneke’s on Kawaii after my cousin’s wedding in 2000 I have wanted to go in the ocean and see what I could find, and forage. After all, we are terrestrial beings, what a challenge to ‘tame the deep’ and harvest something in the ocean where we are guests. Plus I LOVE sushi and how can you get sushi for cheap/free? Yep, go fishing.

I grew up spending several weeks in the summer in Capitola, Aptos, and Santa Cruz boogie boarding and surfing until one summer at camp they played Jaws for the older kids to watch… What were they thinking? So ever since I haven’t spent much time in the ocean, the only exception being a bunch of ocean kayaking towards the end of my high school career. But I digress.

Fishing is hunting in the water. Most of fishing happens when we cast a line into the water and use it to penetrate the fish’s habitat, luring the fish with shiny hooked things that instigate the fish’s natural instinct to chase said shiny thing. Other techniques involve using hooks that are dressed up to look like a fish’s natural bug/small animal prey. This is Fly Fishing, and the kind of fishing I do mostly. You can also bait the hook with general prey items like pieces of food that a fish would normally find floating around in it’s environment, or use the shiny lure thingys to catch a fish. Both of these fishing options don’t involved getting into the water (usually, waders help with access but aren’t required). And, as I’ve been told, it’s called Fishing, not Catching, because it’s not always successful.

Then there is the other option. What craziness is it to go fully into the water after a fish or other edible aquatic species? I still haven’t been spearfishing and scuba diving equipment is EXPENSIVE!! And since you rely on it to provide you with AIR (kinda essential to LIVING!) it’s not something that you can ‘get by with’. I have found that Abalone diving is the gateway to aquatic foraging.

Abalone diving requires free diving, that is, you cannot use tanks, you can only use the air you breathe before you dive into the water. This is a regulation stipulated by CA Fish and Game because back in the day when you could commercially harvest abalone, the use of tanks allowed divers to over-harvest the aquatic snail and almost led to the annihilation of the species. Now, you can only harvest red abalone (black, pink, white, and flat abalone are illegal to harvest) for ‘sport’, meaning there is no legal way to obtain abalone unless you get it yourself, or someone who got it gives it to you, without compensation! And you can only harvest them north of San Francisco Bay. Any harvesting and selling of abalone is highly illegal and the CA game wardens will come and ticket you, take your abalone, and possibly seize your vehicle and boat used to transport the abalone, any equipment, and possibly make you serve jail time. So don’t do it.

I have a friend that really likes abalone diving, so he said when he comes down to Ft. Bragg he would take me, and finally I got to go out a couple weekends ago. I had a good time, unfortunately it was not a good day because conditions were not ideal. But next time… next time!

Once I get some I will post again about the experience… and the recipes!!

Several things are required to go abalone diving, and several conditions make it easier and much less dangerous:

-Good swimming ability. Very important to be a good swimmer if you are going in the ocean.
– CA Fishing License and Ab report card. Here is the link to the CA Abalone regulations, and a video!
– Wetsuit. It is cold on the North Coast and on a nice day 5mm is ok for an hour or 2. 7mm thick is better, with the ‘long john’ suit for a double layer over your core being the best. Also want a hood, booties and gloves.
– Weight belt. This is one of the things that frustrated me, mine was borrowed and didn’t have the right weight so I couldn’t get down and stay down long enough to pry my ab off the rock. Make sure you have a weight belt that has the proper weight for you AND your suit (because your suit has buoyancy, talk to the dive shop).
– Mask and snorkel. A properly fitted mask and snorkel will make seeing and breathing easy.
– Fins. Depending on where you are going, you may or may not need them. They can get tangled in kelp, but they can also help you get farther in the water.
– Ab gauge and iron. You cannot harvest abalone smaller than 7 inches wide, you need something on your person to measure them with. The iron is used to pry the snails off the rock.
Other things that are nice to have: a game bag to put your abs in, a boogie board or dive float to stow your gear on and also lets you rest somewhat out of the water if you need to.

The conditions that are ideal for Ab Diving, and increase your chances of a safe and successful dive:
-Always dive with a friend. And always have someone who knows where you went and when you are expected back.
– Go during low tides. Even though it will be more crowded (because low tide is the time to go) there will be more abalone accessible at lower tides than at higher tides, so less water to dive through is good.
– Clear and calm days. Never turn your back on the ocean, the calmer it is, the more enjoyable your time in the water will be.
– Visibility. Best when the ocean is calm or it hasn’t been raining.

Belgian-Style Mussels

I should have called this post “Things I Thought Were Hard to Cook (But Was Wrong About)”, but then I would have had to include all of the other well-kept culinary secrets and…well…some of them are just going to have to stay secrets for a little longer.
Today, I just want to talk about mussels.
Anyone from coastal California knows mussels. They’re…the ones that aren’t barnacles. You know – the big (sharp) black shells that grow all over the rocks and cut your feet open and make it impossible to go tidepooling and sometimes the seagulls drop them from way up in the air and they hit you on the head and…
…wait, you can EAT those things?
I am here to tell you that you can (and should). If you don’t cook shellfish because it is “hard” or “scary”, you’re wrong. Try this. It is SO EASY and easily makes the best plate of mussels I have ever eaten.

If you are harvesting the mussels yourself, please read about the safe times of year to do so (October to April, basically) and all precautions to take. Hank Shaw has a great post about wild mussels here. Please take warnings about mussels seriously, as you can get very sick (and even die) from ingesting mussels that have filtered a particular dinoflagellate present in the waters during the summer months.
Farmed mussels are strictly enforced and are safe to eat, provided your supplier is following the rules set down by the government (who track the algal blooms and only allow harvest of shellfish when it is determined to be safe).
And yes, the quality of the shellfish is very important. We have a guy who comes to our local farmer’s market who supplies us with fresh, live, healthy mussels for a totally reasonable price (also clams, and oysters, which are his specialty).

This is only kind of a recipe. It’s actually more of a method. Take 2 lbs of mussels, and make sure they are all alive (they should either be closed, or they should close pretty quickly when you poke them in the squishy-parts). If they don’t close, toss them – they’re probably dead, and a dead mussel is not a tasty (or safe to eat) thing.
The beards will need to be removed from the mussels just prior to cooking (don’t do it until you are ready to cook them, as it can kill them, and then they will go bad). To do this, start at one side of the beard and pry it out. It will be partially inside the shell and can take a bit of muscle (haha) to remove, but once you get the hang of it, the process goes pretty quickly. Once they are de-bearded, rinse them well (Rick scrubs them off with a sturdy brush/scrubber) and keep them chilled until you are ready to put them in the pan.

Speaking of pans, you’ll want a big stock pot or deep frying pan (I use our big paella pan) that has a tight-fitting lid. Finely dice a couple of shallots and about 4 cloves of garlic, and put them in the pan with 1/3 bottle of white wine and about a cup of heavy cream, and slowly bring this up to a light simmer. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the garlic and shallots are tender. Chop about 1/2 c of flat-leaf parsley and toss it into the mix, with a bit of salt and pepper (you’ll adjust later to taste).
Bring the broth up to a high simmer (but not a boil) and throw in your chilled, cleaned mussels. Spread them out as best you can in the pan (it’s OK that the sauce won’t cover them) and put the lid on the pan. Steam the mussels for about 8 minutes, or until all the shells are open.
At this point, if the shells do not open, they are probably dead. You can cook them for another few minutes to see if they’ll comply, but I generally just throw them out to be on the safe side.
Taste the broth and season with salt/pepper if necessary. The opened mussels are now ready to eat! Garnish with a bit more chopped parsley, and serve over pasta or with a side of fresh garlic bread – delicious.

From start to finish, this process takes Rick and I less than 30 minutes. I make the sauce, he de-beards, we reconvene for steaming, and make garlic bread while the mussels cook. Easy, right? Right.
Delicious? You bet.

I can’t wait until the season is right to try this with wild mussels (which will require a few more steps, as they are notoriously gritty and the broth needs to be strained to remove debris). Another wild food for the pot? I’m willing to go to the trouble!

Sunchoke Chowder

The recent nice weather has me dreaming big dreams of garden-overhaul: what plants to take out, what new plants to put in…how to put the greenhouse together, what seeds need to be started, whether or not it’s a good idea to get MORE chickens…

Spring Cleaning, it seems, is not restricted to the indoors this year. There have been some major changes taking place in the yard.
One of the goals for this year is to bring in more natives, more groundcover/mulching/nitrogen-fixing/soil amending plants, and try to plant only things that we will actually USE. Yes, there are many amazing, inspiring, and beautiful plants out there that I would love to grow, but some of them just aren’t right for this climate (hot peppers, pomegranates). Some are prohibitively high-maintenance (brussels sprouts, cabbages) and some I just never get around to eating (radishes).
I am also being more honest with myself about our limitations in this space: we are never going to be able to grow enough tomatoes to keep us in pasta sauce, salsa, and ketchup all year. Maybe those beds are better used for growing salad greens and root veggies and squash…especially since, in season, I can get organic heirlooms for $1/lb at the farmer’s market down the street.
Being more conscious with our garden plan will give us enough room to expand the crops we DO like, so that we can actually grow enough of them (garlic, onions, snap peas, beans, kabocha squash, mustard greens, beets, carrots, etc) to be completely self-sufficient and not have to buy them.

One plant that I have always been fascinated with is the sunchoke, or Jerusalem Artichoke. These plants are common in our area (though technically not native to this side of the US), and are a relative of the sunflower. You’ve likely seen them on the side of the road with their yellow daisy-like heads bobbing in the breeze. They’re everywhere; filling ditches and empty lots with their green leaves and vibrant blossoms.
In the back area of the yard, we have a lot of space where the chickens and ducks run around. I’ve been looking for ways to fill that space with plants that don’t need a lot of coddling. Hearty plants that can withstand dry spells and months of neglect.

Enter the sunchoke.
I figured if I was going to plant it, I ought to know what it was all about. I’ve had my share of sunchoke puree, and have had them roasted in a medley of other tubers, but didn’t really know much more about them, and had NEVER cooked with them. So last week at the farmer’s market, we picked some up. A quick glance at the internet said there’s much more that you can do with a sunchoke than just mashing it up and calling it a day. Gratins and casseroles, crisp raw salads, and many different sorts of soups called out to me. But one recipe really caught my attention: a cheesy, creamy sunchoke chowder with a garnish of quickly blanched fresh veggies and some chervil leaves on top – divine.

We didn’t want to go out to the store, so we used what was on-hand. Mostly, this was pretty easy to do (one of the great things about having a garden is there’s pretty much always SOMETHING to cook with). We subbed out the milk for some half and half and veggie stock. and because the turkey stock was frozen, we made a roux to add to it after it had melted, instead of putting the flour directly into the pan with the veggies.
I’ll admit, Rick actually did all the cooking here, and my main contribution was getting-in-the-way-to-take-pictures, and stealing bits of grated cheese off the cutting board. But he graciously wrote out the recipe for me, and here it is: a soup guaranteed to be filling and sweet and creamy and decadent. A perfect starter for a salty roast and a crisp green salad or a perfect meal all on its own, this soup is guaranteed to satisfy.
…especially when the sunchokes we kept start to sprout, and we can plant them in the back yard. Soup, anyone?
Sunchoke Chowder
makes 12-14c soup; serves 6-10

4 Tbsp butter
5 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
2 lbs sunchokes, cleaned thoroughly (but not peeled), and cut into pieces
3 large carrots, cut into rounds
2 c turkey stock
1 c vegetable stock
3/4 cups half + half
1 1/2 c shredded cheese (sharp cheddar and smoked gouda)
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 sunchoke, peeled and julienned
1 carrot, matchsticked
1/2 large leek (I used the green parts and kept the blanched heart for a quiche tomorrow), julienned
chervil leaves (or flat leaf parsley), chopped
Thoroughly clean the sunchokes to make sure there is no grit or dirt in the crevices. Cut out any bad buts, and slice them into rounds about 1/2 inch rounds. If you are not going to cook with them right away, keep them in a bowl of cold water to prevent browning.
Peel and dice the onion, and sweat it until translucent in 2 tbs of butter in a large stock pot or deep sautee pan (I used my paella pan). Add the carrots and sunchokes, and 2c of stock (any kind). Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the sunchokes are soft, but not disintegrating.

In a separate pan, make a roux with 5 Tbsp of flour and 2 Tbsp of butter. Cook until the flour is barely beginning to brown, and then whisk in the other cup of stock. Keep whisking until all of the lumps are dissolved. Mix this into the pan with the stock and veggies until combined, and bring to a low simmer to thicken.
In the meantime, julienne the garnish ingredients (leek, carrot, sunchoke – you should have about 2 c of mass all together when they’re chopped). Blanch these for about a minute in boiling water and then immediately transfer them into a cold water bath to stop the cooking process. Drain, and set aside. Rinse and chop the chervil/parsley, and set that aside too.

In small batches, run the (now tender) veggies and stock through a food processor, blender, or use an immersion blender. Process until the soup is completely smooth (you may see little flecks of skin from the sunchokes – that’s OK), and transfer it all back into the pan. Add the cream and cheese, and mustard powder, and stir to combine. Bring the soup back to heat, but do not let it boil. Once the cheese is fully melted, taste for salt/pepper, and serve hot.

Garnish each bowl with a small bunch of julienned veggies and a dusting of chopped chervil, and serve with a few toasty pieces of whole grain baguette.

Orange Braised Fennel

The rains have come again, bringing with them all sorts of delicious spring greens. I’ve spent the past few weeks starting lettuce and spinach (to be moved into the garden beds once this cold snap blows through), and am starting to notice all the delicious edibles popping up around empty lots and fields around the city. Miner’s lettuce and three-cornered leeks and lamb’s quarters and SO MUCH FENNEL.

One of my favorite forage-ables is fennel. It has so many culinary uses, and is so versatile. Yes, the bulbs don’t get as big as the ones in the grocery store, but to me that makes it even better. The seeds are fabulous fresh or dried in Italian foods (I put ridiculous amounts of it into my tomato sauce). The greens are delicious in salads. Eaten young, the bulbs are sweet and crisp, and don’t get tough and stringy like the big, older bulbs can. They are also SO EASY TO FIND, what with being EVERYWHERE.
I found this recipe a while back and knew I had to try it. I’ll tell you, Helene’s recipes are pretty spot-on and I tried to follow her directions as closely as possible. Unfortunately, I’m not the sort to have fancy liqueurs around the house, so I had to improvise with a little vodka.
So now I’ll let you in on an embarrassing little secret: I couldn’t wait for the neighborhood (or backyard) fennel to get big enough for this recipe. I bought the pictured fennel bulbs at the farmer’s market because I was impatient. The good news? Now I know the recipe is wonderful, and when the local fennel catches up, I will be ready.

Orange Braised Fennel
2-3 Tbsp sunflower oil
6-8 small bulbs fennel, greens removed
1/2 c fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice
1 tsp orange zest
1-2 sprigs fresh lemon thyme, leaves picked off the stems
1 c water
1/4 c vodka
2 pods star anise
salt and pepper to taste
Cut off the ends of the fennel bulbs to remove any of the root, but leave enough that the pieces will not fall apart when they are cooking. Trim off the stems. Depending on the size of the bulbs, cut them into halves or quarters, again making sure to leave enough of the base on each piece that they hold together.
Juice an orange and reserve the zest. You’ll want to have at least 1/2 cup of juice. Let the zest soak in 1/4 cup of vodka, along with two pods of star anise, the thyme, and some fresh-cracked pepper. Add in the orange juice (and try not to drink it, even though it smells AMAZING).

Heat a large cast-iron (or other non-stick) pan with a few tablespoons of oil and sautee the fennel until it it is beginning to brown on all sides. Once it is golden, deglaze the pan with the vodka/zest/juice mixture, gently tossing the fennel pieces to coat them. Let this cook over medium heat for a few minutes to cook off the booze, then add about 1/2 cup of water and turn the heat down to low. Let this simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the fennel is fork-tender and the liquid has mostly evaporated and formed a glaze. Season with salt, and more pepper if needed.
If the fennel is still a little raw, add more water (or orange juice) and let it cook down a bit more until it is soft.

Serve this as a side dish with duck or pork, or as a topping for baguette slices spread with cream cheese or brie. Delicious.