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Sunday, July 11, 2010

First Tomatoes, Wild Blackberries, & Venison Ragu...

I haven't posted in a bit as I have been working for FEMA as a Community Relations Field Specialist here in McDowell County, WV for last two weeks as part of the Disaster Response Operation for the June floods. This is the first time I've worked for FEMA "at home" in McDowell County, and I am TRULY getting know my own county- and it is HUGE!! For the last 8 years I've basically let Chef Dan play Chauffeur Dan, and ferry me around and around and up and down the narrow, winding mountain roads of our southern WV mountains, frankly because winding Route 52 scares the poopies out of me- even as a passenger! But I, a.k.a. "weenie girl", have just spent the past 2 weeks driving 10 hours a day on Routes 16, 7, 103, & 161, and Route 52 now looks like a fabulous piece of cake!  There are stretches of it where even I can almost make 50 mph! Once you do Those Other Routes, with 12% grades, hairpin "switchback" turns that MUST be taken no faster than 3mph, giant coal tucks that come whipping around those curves at you in your very own own lane, ramps you have to enter from the opposite side of the road (on a curve, no less), guys passing you on a double-yellow because they think they've been reincarnated as Dale Earnhardt, roads with no center line because they're too narrow for one, and entrances to residential areas that literally drop off the highway into seeming nothingness, and do them on patched (& sometimes semi-paved) roads with no "pull-over" space, no guard rail, & a 1000 feet down the mountain, Route 52 looks like a Super Highway!  Whoo-whee, baybee!  So far I've been to War, Davy, Gary, Sandy Huff, Squire, Bishop, Newhall, Cucumber, Coalwood, Capels, and Carswell Hollow, as well as nearby Northfork, Keystone, Eckman, and Welch. I've been to places where the blacktop REALLY ends, kids, with more to come, and by the end of this operation I WILL KNOW MY COUNTY AS WELL AS DAN DOES! I have a prayer in Hebrew that I recite each and every time I turn on the engine, and I say it unfailingly many, many times throughout the day... but, surprisingly, I'm finding (most of) the driving almost fun, and it's certainly an adrenaline booster! But at the end of the day, when I pull into our parking lot, I am Knackered! In addition to this, we have guests at the Elkhorn Inn every day, all month long, so Dan has been pulling "double duty" all day while I am out FEMA-ing; at the end of the day I change out of my FEMA uniform & become the Inn's hostess again!
About two weeks ago we harvested The First Tomato Of The Season- a landmark event for gardeners the world over, I think:

We served most of it in a salad for Elkhorn Inn dinner guests- who were delighted! We're now harvesting those candy-sweet grape tomatoes, and there's lots of green tomatoes ripening, and little tiny peppers on the pepper plants! The weather has been Gorgeous- 90 degrees & sunny- and I had a day off last week, so Dan & I, in True McDowell County Fashion, got on my ATV, and set out to pick a few early wild blackberries! We got enough to eat our fill and bottle some up in brandy, but most of them need another week or two to hit Blackberry Perfection:

The photo below was taken at the gas station in Welch:

And then I came home the other day to find Chef Dan in the kitchen up to his elbows in... venison. We often pass "road kill" on Route 52- pets, as well as wild animals, who've been hit by cars and trucks- and it never fails to shake both of us up- especially, interestingly enough, US Army Retired Hunter Dan, who one might think would be inured to Everything by now. I passed the body of a car-hit deer on the way home, and then another one was hit just up the road from us. When Dan drove to Welch a crowd had gathered around the animal, who had a broken back and was clearly suffering. When Dan came back, an hour later, the deer was still there, barely alive, and still suffering; apparently no one had the guts to do anything but watch it suffer. Dan called McDowell County 911, but both they and DNR were too busy to deal with it (in other words, to shoot it and put it out of its misery and dispose of it properly), so 911asked Dan if he could handle it, and said that if he could, we could have the meat. And so he can and so he did. It shook him up, because it's been a few years since he'd had to do something like that, but he was able to do it. And then, amazingly, he professionally butchered and processed it, and by the time I got home it was well on its way to becoming venison pate and an amazingly delicious venison ragu sauce over linguine...  The man's skill-set totally stuns me, day after day... 
When you see meat in the supermarket, sterile slabs of red wrapped in plastic that don't look anything like an Animal, you may be able to pretend that you're not really eating a (delicious) animal that was once alive. If you grow up and live your entire life in cities, you may be able to keep pretending that throughout your entire life. But to be truly human we need to periodically jolt ourselves back into reality and remind ourselves that humans are animals too, carnivores who eat other animals, and that our dinners of lamb chops, ribs, bacon, and steak don't grow on the "meat tree" neatly wrapped in Styrofoam trays, and Mrs. Paul's Fish Stix don't sprout fully-formed from the Wal-Mart freezer compartment by magic. That it is wrong to stand around and watch an animal suffer until it dies, and both senseless and hazardous to let it rot on the highway or draw wild animals in to residential areas to feed on it. In other words, to think about it all, at least a bit. As humans who often pride ourselves on being at the "top of the food chain", we owe at least that to the rest of the chain. I have a Real problem with people who differentiate between "cute" animals (deer and lamb, for example) and "ugly" animals (beef and chicken, for example, or birds and fish and shellfish that aren't mammals and don't have those big, liquid Bambi eyes)- professing (usually vociferously, and sometimes violently) that it's wrong to kill one and okay to kill the other. Survival of the cutest? To me that smacks of Nazism and I find it totally sick. Me? I'm a carnivore. I smoke, I drink, I wear fur, I eat meat, and I eat what I shoot.  
Visiting friends in Wyoming, I once commented, as we drove past a particularly picturesque herd of cattle, "How pretty!" "And good eating, too!" was the response. And so they are!

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