Yummy Nunny

Laura and I are relatively adventurous eaters. Not at the level that Andrew Zimmerman, that freak, occupies but we are pretty open to new foods. We’ve found that, interestingly enough, in our very rural area, that most of our neighbors (I use the term “neighbor” to describe anyone who lives within five miles of us) are not adventurous eaters. I’ve been saving oyster shells for our future chickens by placing them beside Laura’s Lilly garden. Laura’s Lilies! One of our closer neighbors drove up the other day to deliver a package left at the general store and caught site of the oyster shells. He asked what they were, where we got them and how did I cook them. When I explained we ate them raw he shuddered and beat a hasty retreat.

I’ll likewise never forget being at a celebration at the Palisades Restaurant and observing people scarf Foie Gras. A friend of mine had both hands and his mouth full and asked me what it was. He nearly barfed. More for me!

I get similar reactions to one of our favorite foods, rabbit. We rediscovered it a few years ago and have a great local source for it out of Riner, Virginia. Laura has affectionately dubbed it “Nunny.” It’s sweet, lean, humanely and carefully raised and falling-off-the-bone tender. It doesn’t taste anything like chicken, although we neglected to mention it was rabbit to our guests children last week (at the request of the parents) and the children were eating seconds and marveling at how good the “chicken” was.

It has started making me wonder, why don’t we eat rabbit? Nearly every other culture, from Asian to Italian, treats rabbit as just another staple. They are easy to raise, pound for pound they are one of the cheapest animals to grow to harvest. They are docile, easily harvested, easily dressed and their waste is excellent fertilizer.

During some brief research I discovered that rabbit production in the U.S. declined sharply right after WWII. I’m guessing that the push to mass production of grain animals to utilize artificial fertilizers developed by arms corporations funded by the government played a large part in this decline. I also suspect that anthropomorphism after Bambi was released was part of the reason. I mean, really, who wants to eat Thumper? Well, I do.

For whatever the reason, the general public is missing out. Here is our favorite recipe, adopted from La Cucina Italiana magazine:

Ravioloni Con Coniglio:

The original recipe calls for ravioloni, but Laura prefers homemade linguini style pasta instead. Any pasta that you like will work.

 Cut a 3 pound rabbit into 4 pieces, place in a shallow bowl and cover with white wine. Allow to marinate at room temperature for about an hour.
 In the meantime, chop one onion, a couple of carrots and two celery ribs into a medium chop.
 In a large pot, combine carrots, onion, celery and about two tablespoons of good olive oil. Cook over medium high heat until the onions are translucent.
 Drain the rabbit and add to the pot. Add four cups of good chicken or veggie stock.
 Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to low and simmer partially covered for one hour.
 Uncover and simmer until the liquid is reduced by about half and the rabbit is falling off the bone, about another hour.
 Use a slotted spoon to transfer the rabbit to a cutting board. Shred the meat and discard the bones.
 Bring the liquid in the pot to a boil and cook for about ten minutes.
 Add the rabbit, season to taste and smother your favorite pasta with it. Enjoy!

Adventures

I graduated with my M.S. in Engineering Geology in May of 2001 to little fanfare. As soon as my thesis defense was complete and they told me I would indeed get my degree I loaded my essentials into my 1983 Suburban and headed south. My lease was up, I had no job, no money, but ultimately, I was born to wander.

As much as I love home, and I do, there are days when I gaze at the horizon and dream of Baja. I think of the things I haven’t seen, tasted or experienced. I wonder what Appalachicola looks like this morning. My wife and I have a map of Baja and talk of the day when we can just get in that same old Suburban and wander off to experience the lonely roads. We discuss the sailboat that we will one day buy and the hut in which we will live in Costa Rica. Right on the beach. With a perfect sand bar break.

That summer in 2001 defined who I am today. I drove to St. George’s Island in Florida, straight through, without stopping, and stayed for nearly a month in a remote campsite. I had to paddle nearly 45 minutes to the so-called bath house. I watched sharks, swam in the bay and worked construction when I needed a little cash. Those were the good days, when the economy was booming and fuel was about a dollar a gallon. Remember those days?

I spent a week in the Everglades, canoeing between elevated camping platforms and was eaten alive by mosquitoes. The alligators were omnipresent and very active in my imagination and I fled with a sigh of relief. Sanibel Island was next, where I pitched my tent in the only trailor park on that overpriced piece of real estate and collected sea shells with the bleach blond (ed?), badly sun-burned retirees. Everyone fished. I was invaded by fire ants who were apparently really angry that I had put my tent on their house. To all of you ants: I apologize. You made me pay.

I then wandered further, out to the Keys, where I experienced a new kind of madness. You meet some truly interesting people camping – there is no privacy when you are living in a tent. Especially in the Keys. Nowhere to hide. You are what you are and by this point I had realized that a lot of human trappings are just that, trappings. Who needs pants when you have surf shorts? Three tee shirts are plenty. Underwear is highly over-rated. Air conditioning is for the weak. $20 was a virtual fortune. I had dove into an alternate universe. I wasn’t homeless, exactly. I was on an adventure.

I called my Mom from a pay phone just outside of Miami to explain that I was working on a fishing boat and that I would be there to see (sea?) them at some point. She cried. I am the oldest of seven and all my Mom really ever wanted was for us to just live nearby and wander in and out of her house every day. She also taught me to read before I can remember, taught me to cook before I was in school and instilled in me a love of literature and a fascination for the unknown. She is who I am.

Tired of the drama, I wandered north, passing through Myrtle Beach (sucks) and headed north for the Outer Banks. That is my ultimate destination. The OBX are vulnerable, pressed as far east as nearly any other point in our country, with little to protect them from the mighty Atlantic. I found a cheap campsite and made it my home. My girlfriend had declared me crazy in Pensacola and flew home, which was fine by me. She was excess baggage. She was not capable of adventure.

I decided that I was in love with my wife on an adventure. I told her of my campground in the OBX not long after we first met. We decided to go – just like that. The problem was, there was a hurricane. That particular fall, when Laura and I embarked on our first adventure, there were multiple hurricanes hammering the east coast. We went anyway. We camped in a single-wall tent for a week. In the rain. She surfed, every day. She didn’t wash her hair. We cooked in a scooped out pit in the sand. We slathered on sunscreen when it wasn’t raining. She befriended a stray dog and found a secluded surf spot. We had a complete blast.

Sometimes, life gets in the way of adventure. But, this year, we are going to find our adventures. We will live it to the max and enjoy every minute. We probably won’t make it to Baja, but I am charging the batteries on my old truck anyway and he is happy that I am finally paying him attention. It’s been too long.

Winter Blues

Sorry for not posting this week, but I think most of you will understand. My ability to type is severely limited by the burns from Monday. I didn’t realize how badly I was actually burned for a couple of days. I won’t have to get skin grafts or anything like that, but I am not going to heal overnight, either. Normally, I heal very quickly, but this is going to take a while.

Enough whining. Today, I’m really going to just ramble. We hosted a local chef Wednesday night and for the first time during our time together, I was relegated to the sidelines in the kitchen. Laura forbade me from doing anything other than tasting the wine and watching her cook, which drove me a little crazy. I’m used to being in the center of the action, but I must say that the wine tasting was rather pleasant.

I want to give a big shout out to Vintage Cellar in Blacksburg. These guys have an AMAZING selection of wine, beer, sake and cider. They also have a great selection of cheese and fresh bread delivered every Thursday. I would recommend getting there early Friday morning for the bread, it’s gone pretty quick. They have free beer tastings on Fridays and wine tastings on Saturdays. Be sure to bring your ID – this is a college town and they have to be strict.

The Rabbit Ragu recipe is coming next, along with a couple of local restaurant reviews and canning recipes. The winter blues are easy to succumb to this time of year, so stay active and out! The Blacksburg Farmers Market is open every Saturday and the mild weather is allowing local greenhouses to keep growing produce, so get out and get some! Make a salad and pretend its spring. Build a giant fire in your fireplace if you have one.

It’s Prime Rib Day at The Underground today! Go enjoy yourself; I’ll be there for sure. The Palisades Restaurant is hosting live music this Sunday along with the Chef’s Whim of the Day and Pizza of the Day. Go. Do. Enjoy.

Burns and Beets

We all have our obsessions with food items. For some it’s chocolate. For others it’s chips. For me, it’s cheeseburgers. Not the fast-food, nasty-ass, garden-variety, poop-containing 99 cent versions off every exit on every interstate in America. No way. It’s the out of the way, hand-formed, chef-cooked, hand-ground, awesome examples of American Cuisine. That’s what I will drive 100 miles for, go out of my way for, drool over and start a war for, if needs be. Yumm…

But, for my wife, it’s beets. She will fight you over beets. Raw, fresh, salted, not, pickled, stewed, roasted, marinated, brined, made into sliders – she loves them. She will eat them until I am worried she will literally turn pink. All of her. Last night was an ultimatum in beet preparation. She wanted beet chips. Contrary to popular belief, she is perhaps a better cook than I am, but she is limited to her time in the kitchen by her photography. This is her down time, so she gets more chances to cook.

Yesterday, she sliced beets. Paper thin, as her knife skills are AMAZING, and placed them by the fire to dry. After twelve hours or so, we heated a skillet full of peanut oil on medium heat to fry them, and went down to the first floor to plan remodeling. Big, Big mistake.

We were debating on selling or donating our used skis when Laura froze, looked upstairs, and said “I think something is wrong.” She sprinted up the stairs and then screamed, “The house is on fire!”

There are those moments when you just don’t question things. When your date says, “I’m pregnant.” When your mom says, “You have a new baby brother!” You just don’t question those moments. So, at that moment, I sprinted up the stairs. Laura tossed me the fire extinguisher, and I registered that there were about four feet of flames cascading out of our cast iron skillet. Our cabinets were smoking. The smoke alarms were shreaking, all at once. I hesitated, briefly, then pulled the plug. My coal mining experience took over and I fired the extinguisher at the base of the fire. Then flipped the empty cannister over and read, “Not suitable for kitchen fires.” Great. Flames hit the ceiling and oil splattered all over the kitchen. I looked at Laura, our kitchen, which is on fire, and grabbed a towel. This is not a time for the faint of heart. I grabbed the skillet, thought about surfing and headed through the house with it.

Laura flung the door open for me just as my pain tolerance was ending and I flung the skillet into the yard, into the rain. We blotted out the rest of the fire with wet towels and I dealt with third degree burns all night.  A small price to pay for our house. Nothing some aspirin can’t help.


In the end, it’s all about who you are with. My wife is amazingly cool in the face of overwhelming adversity and I would go to war for her. Her beet chips? Absolutely, yes, we finished them. They were awesome.

Beet Chips:

Slice beets as thin as you can. Use a Mandarin if your knife skils are questionable or if you are lazy, like me. Allow to dry for 10 to 12 hours on paper towels, until they are stiff. Heat peanut or vegetable oil over medium heat until it is about 350 degrees. Ladle the beet slices in carefully, be sure to not overcrowd the skillet. Cook until crispy, 3-4 minutes. Place on paper towels to drain. Season immediately, and enjoy!


Roller Derby

I love bad-ass women. I do. I can’t help it. My favorite movies are Underworld, Aliens, Resident Evil, Hard Candy and anything else that has a tough, beautiful woman in it. My favorite climbing partners were girls. My best friend growing up was Shari O’Quinn, a bad-ass motocross racing, take no prisoners, punch boys in the mouth, stand up for anything she believed in – girl. So it is fitting that I married who I did. Laura is one tough cookie.

I’m pecking this out with my left hand as I am severely burned from a kitchen fire last night. I’ll write more about that later, but this is all about the New River Valley Roller Derby Girls. I wrote this a few months ago for the NRV Magazine, but I feel that it is worth posting. Enjoy! Go see these girls – it’s worth the admission.  

This is no joke. The home jammer just lapped the opposing team’s pivot and blockers for the fourth time, amassing more points in the process. Jammer Jean is in the penalty box for throwing an elbow and the visiting team, The Queen’s Elephants, have fallen by two points. The blockers are desperately maneuvering to stay in a wall to keep the jammer from scoring any points. The home crowd is screaming loudly for their team and there are bruises, contusions and ripped fishnet stockings as the two minute jam ends with Mighty Muskateer repeatedly placing her hands on her hips to signal to the referee that it is over. The crowd goes wild as adoring fans, friends and family scream for their favorite skaters.

This is a brief fictional description of a moment in time in one of the fastest growing organized amateur sports in the country, Roller Derby. Roller Derby originated in the late 1800’s as a simulation of a cross country endurance race on roller skates, usually in two-person teams. The current formation, which is more of a contact style sport, emerged in the 1960’s in a style akin to the World Wide Wrestling Federation bouts, with the winner pre-determined. The focus of the sport at that time was more on the antics and characters of the performers. There is nothing fake about today’s iteration of the sport.

Roller Derby is now sanctioned by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) which maintains the league rules and scoring systems. The association was started in 2001, and now encompasses more than 400 leagues worldwide. According to the WFTDA web site, a league can be started nearly everywhere, as all that is needed is a flat surface suitable for skating and willing participants. The rules, just like any other contact sport, are intended to enforce safety to minimize injuries. Despite the rules and protective gear, these guys still get hurt!  Deep bruises, sprains, friction burns, and scrapes are common and are proudly displayed on web sites and worn as battle scars. Broken bones are rare, but still occur.

Our New River Valley Rollergirl Team, named the Bruisin Burgs, was founded by Speed Junkie in 2007. They are still an apprentice team within the WFTDA, but are climbing through the ranks at a dizzying pace. During their bout versus Rogue on April 17th they demonstrated a team spirit that belied their relative youth in a league populated by teams with more experience and depth. Undersized yet unfazed, the Burgs dominated the rink. Rallying behind a devastating hit by Slingin’ Gritz on Rogue’s lead Jammer, Chatterbox and Quarter Pound Her utilized their speed and took advantage of the superb blocking by Seam Stressed, Bettie Lockdown, Acid Assassin, Speed Junkie and the others to slice their way through the opposing team, building an overwhelming lead of 111 to 49 by halftime! Rogue simply could not match the speed of the smaller, determined and more agile Burg Jammers.

These ladies, who become their aliases like Meen Kitty, Speed Junkie, Bettie Lockdown, Acid Assassin, Chatterbox and Smooth Operator, take this sport seriously. These are only a few of the members of our local NRV Rollergirl Team. They typically practice three nights a week, with a hectic schedule of seventeen bouts in the season. This is on top of their duties as mothers, students, working professionals, wives and combinations of all the above. They are a diverse group of women, ranging in age from 18 to 50. They are truly dedicated to this sport. They talk about why they do it, citing the stress relief of the full contact sport, the camaraderie of the team dynamics, the opportunity to compete, being active in the community, developing an alter ego (you get to be someone else!) and the screams of the crowd. This team is adored within the NRV, with hundreds of fans attending their bouts and chearing for their favorite rollergirl.

When interviewed, they cited the most difficult bout as one in which a team member, Seam Stressed, suffered a broken ankle and continued to skate. She was removed by the medics when they realized the extent of her injury. The entire team rallied around her and despite their concern for their fallen comrade, continued to compete. Interestingly enough, despite the intense competitive nature of the women and the sport itself, they rarely mention wins or losses when describing bouts or opposing teams. Instead, they describe how big the opposing team is, or how they are so good and what an honor it is to skate against them. They are a very humble group of athletes.

Despite their rough and tumble image and on the track ferocity, these women and men that are associated with the group are very active in the community, participating in community service and philanthropic initiatives to give back to their fans and neighbors. They participated in Radford’s Relay for Life (winning Best Campsite), are active in the American Cancer Society and participate in charity events.

Get yourself over to Adventure World, 200 Midway Plaza in Christiansburg and support our local rollergirls. Trust me; you’ll be screaming your head off ten minutes into the bout. Look up their schedule at www.nrvrollergirls.com, facebook keyword NRV Roller Girls.


The Importance of an Omelet

There are some things as a man that you should simply be able to do. Take a mouse out of a trap. Change a flat tire. Light a fire. Put up a tent. Grill. Use a chain saw. Split wood. It’s not to say that you’re not a man if you can’t do these things, I just feel that a large part of the current generation are missing out on things that we used to take for granted. These are simple things that women also expect men to be able to do but realize that a lot of us can’t do.

You never want to try any of those things without practicing first. You never want your wife, girlfriend or a date you are trying to impress see you struggle with any of those things. There is nothing in the world more embarrassing than arriving at your campsite in the middle of the night and not being able to get the tent up. It’s just a jumble of poles, ties, canvas and it never brings out the best in you. You end up cursing a lot and sleeping in the car. It’s not a good way to start a trip.

The same thing goes for cooking. There are a few things that a man should be able to cook. Nothing impresses a woman these days more than a man who can cook. I found myself single in a strange city a number of years ago and had no idea how to meet women. I was uncomfortable in bars and I’m rather deaf, so having a conversation consisted mostly of, “Hi, my name is Ron.” “What?” “Excuse me?” “You’re name is Randy??” (It wasn’t. It was Mandy.)

I did love to cook, though that is a lonely affair for one. I accidently left my door open one evening (I never did get used to the necessity of closing the door and locking it in cities) and was preparing lasagna. A half-starved gorgeous blonde neighbor who existed mostly on Starbucks and Skittles knocked on my door and asked what I was cooking. Voila! I was on to something! My kitchen became the neighborhood hangout almost overnight.

One thing that you should be able to cook as a man is an omelet. You can earn some serious extra bonus points on that first morning together if you can effortlessly whip up an omelet. They are so simple to make and so easy to ruin. So, I’m going to guide you step by step through making the perfect omelet.

1. Get your ingredients ready. Most anything will work in an omelet, but remember this: Keep it simple! The guy temptation is to throw everything in the fridge on it, including leftover pepperoni. Don’t do it. Three or four ingredients, max. Too many and the omelet will be overloaded and nearly impossible to work with. I know IHOP does it, but just don’t.

2. Use fresh eggs. Trust me, you can find them. They are most always cheaper than the grocery store and they do make a difference. Even if you can’t really tell them apart, it’s always impressive to wow her with the fact you care enough to go source eggs for her special omelet.

3. With your ingredients prepared, crack two eggs into a bowl large enough to mix without spilling. Use the one-handed method to gain extra points. Again, practice first. Digging eggshells out of the bowl isn’t very impressive.

4. Mix until the eggs are frothy. This is important for a light texture. I like this IKEA egg beater. It cost about 59 cents and I’ve had it for ten years.

5. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Melt about a tablespoon of butter. Allow it to heat up but not burn. Slice the toast and get it into the toaster.

6. Pour the egg mixture into the pan after one final whip. Just as the eggs start to firm but haven’t set, gently lift the eggs and allow the uncooked mixture to run into the hot pan. This is important! Don’t flip the omelet, just lift all around the pan and allow the uncooked eggs to slide under the cooked. Again, don’t flip it!

7. Sprinkle the entire omelet with Parmesan or any other hard cheese.

8. Add your other ingredients on only one half of the omelet. If you are a lefty, put them on the right side. If you are right-handed, put them on the left side.

9. Using a spatula, carefully fold the omelet in half.

10. Place more cheese on top and steam for a couple of minutes and allow the cheese to melt.

11. Carefully slide the omelet onto a plate and serve with toast, homemade jam (more on this later) and big mug of tea or coffee. Green tea works best.

12. Tell her how much you love your family and miss your Mom. Talk about your favorite dog while growing up. Don’t overdo it. After this perfect omelet you just whipped up she may begin to think you are secretly gay.

Again, practice this first!!

Update to The Underground

I did forget to mention one thing about The Underground – they serve a wicked breakfast every morning. English style: Scotch Eggs (which are boiled eggs rolled in sausage, dipped in panko bread crumbs and then deep fried. You heard me. They are awesome.), muffins, a Full English Plate and sometimes chicken and waffles. Awesome goodness.