Tuesday, December 2, 2014

SoCal Pheasant Hunting

Sunday following Thanksgiving we went on our first pheasant hunt here in California thanks to Mendel at Woodland's Hunt Club out in Imperial County. We drove there early on one of about two foggy mornings they encounter all year:

But the fog soon lifted and we made our rendezvous right on time, where we were met by dog-handler/guide Jim and his beautiful blonde English lab, Gunnar, and Mendel with the two German shorthair pointers he seems to always travel with. I can just feel the envy in them here, that we are going to chase pheasants while they have to accompany Mendel on his various ranch errands:

So off we went into the fields. My gun only had one barrel in operation, so Mendel lent me a nice 20-gauge Escort autoloader. It was so nice! Especially having that third shot at my disposal.

  Jim and Hanuman, searching...

Gunnar doing what he loves to do:

We searched crops and desert alike, with quite a varied terrain.

Hanuman was the first to score! Here, a lovely rooster, and his first pheasant:

We crossed over into straight desert in our search, and in case you've never hunted pheasant before, it is 99.9% of this - just hiking and hiking and hiking while you carry your gun and keep your eyes and ears peeled, watching and listening. And following Gunnar. It was WINDY this day, making the hunt very difficult because it throws the scent off for the dog, and birds don't like to flush and fly into strong winds (not to mention it giving you special pause when firing your gun into wind at your face!)

Finally we found a nice valley where a few pheasant were hiding, and Gunnar's persistence paid off: another flushed up right before me - this time, a hen:

We wound up with three birds - two roosters and the hen:

Aren't they beautiful?

I combed through pheasant recipes the whole drive out, but after seeing these roosters my head was spinning with ways to use their splendid feathers to decorate our home.

We were very excited to get a dinner meat that we knew our children would love. Pheasant, while very lean and often dry if even slightly overcooked, has a delicate sweet taste that our kids really enjoy. They have asked for "more" beyond what I have every time I've served it.

We popped them in the fridge before field-dressing them in the yard and cleaning them. I took the roosters to Lyons + O'Haver for a combo mounting (but not before stripping out the meat) because they were just so beautiful! I will update when I get them back in a few months.

The recipe used on our first batch was Pheasant Normandy. It involves braising (which is the best way to cook this lean bird) in butter and apples and cider, served over mashed with some roasted Brussels sprouts. Don't judge me for the torn skin - I was plucking this bird outside at dusk!

Thanks for looking and Happy Hunting!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Kelp Forest Lusciousness

Escaped for another solo snorkel recently and was greeted by this at the Cove (yeah, that's a sea lion front and center on the beach):

The clarity, for most of the dive, was unusually good, so I swam over to the sea caves ~ the main one is known as The Clam. This is an over/under shot of the approach to The Clam, showing some of the lovely kelp remnants.

Here are some tourists getting about as close as they can to the sea lions, who are sunbathing below.

This is where my video adventure begins, with some up-close-and-personal time with a couple of lions.

Hello Mr. Sea Lion!

They have little claws on their flippers for exactly this purpose: scratching an itch.


This female came quite close to me, but she didn't blow any bubbles or seem threatened in any way. I do favor solo diving for this very reason; you are much less of a threat to them as a singleton than you are as a group.

The male, however, was definitely more suspicious...

I decided to check out the inside of the Clam - it's only safe to go in when it's relatively calm, like so (get it? CALM inside the CLAM? Oh nevermind!):

Once inside I was treated with the magic of the internal views, but there were no sea lions around...

See? They were all outside on this day.

So I made my way outside again and captured an over/under of sea lions topside, and a juvenile opal eye underneath.

Thanks for looking! xo

Friday, September 26, 2014

Freediving La Jolla | Sea Lions + Leopard Sharks

The past few weeks since the kids have been back in school I've been able to sneak away a few times for a few hours each... just long enough to get in some quick freedives/snorkels, and the results have been rewarding!

Yesterday I headed for La Jolla Cove for a solo snorkel after hearing how great conditions were Wednesday... and after checking all of the tide charts and seeing that there would be a relatively low surge. When I got there, however, this is what I saw:

I decided to go in anyway, but thought about leaving my camera behind. I'm so glad I didn't, though, because of everything I captured ~ including a snorkeling video of the flotilla of sea lions that I temporarily joined.


When I started swimming back toward the Cove, however, conditions had deteriorated rapidly. You'll see that the sea lions had no problem handling the rough surge, but the few humans entering and exiting the Cove had to time their exit just right. 

These are conditions I would NOT take children around (not even on the beach), nor would I take my friends along with me. Did I mention that there is a great restaurant overlooking the Cove called Brockton Villa that serves fantastic Bloody Marys and oysters on the half shell? When you have made plans to go diving and you pull up and see this, abort mission and go have brunch instead! 

Two weeks ago I met up with some dive friends (via San Diego Hammerheads Meetup group) to do a casual group freedive at the Marine Room/La Jolla Shores, and conditions were much calmer. These ladies have logged literally hundreds more dives than I have and dive for a living, yet they still spend their free time taking advantage of a snorkel among friends. They are real-life mermaids, I think!

We were rewarded with leopard sharks...

And even a baby bat ray - check it out here:

The week prior, however, was the best leopard shark dive I've had in a long time, and honestly I credit being alone for my success. I definitely find that diving/snorkeling alone makes you appear less threatening to both leopard sharks and sea lions, while approaching them in a large group can make them uneasy so they just swim away.

Here, they swam under + around me for what felt like hours.

Thanks for looking and get out there and swim!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hunting the Dove Season Opener | Labor Day 2014

Driven by a desire to know more about where our food comes from - especially fish, meat + poultry - I explored the idea of modern-day hunting a few years ago via Georgia Pellegrini. If hunting seems too counter-culture for you, then in addition to Georgia's perspective (which I share) I highly recommend Tovar Cerulli's writings (and others) which have inspired me to try hunting our own meat on occasion. The food is fresh, it is sustainable, it gets us all outdoors where we can appreciate what a gift meat truly is, and it gives me a deeper understanding of the ingredients I'm working with in a particular dish.  

Philosophy on the topic of hunting is vast, and luckily I really enjoy a good dialogue on the matter.

Labor Day was the Dove Season Opener in Imperial Valley this year, and after scouting good spots last fall plus not one but TWO failed hunting trips last year, I was about ready to throw in the dove-hunting towel. In the meantime I scouted my old spots and found some new ones, practiced shooting, and loaded up on ammo.  

Monday morning we awoke at 4am to get out to Imperial County by sun-up. Imperial is known for being one of the best spots in the land to shoot dove, especially the Eurasian dove: a much larger species which is so prolific it is now "Eurasian season" year-round there with no bag limits.

After setting up at our spot and getting the kids comfortable, we were delighted to find that all that time spent at the range lately shooting skeet really paid off. Here's a snippet of what the hunting looks like though when the sun is up and you're casing the skies for the dove to come in close enough for a good shot. We don't have a bird dog, but as you can see our kids happily serve as bird dogs whenever they like. Did I mention that it topped out at 106 degrees on this day? 

We hoped for about eight doves for dinner for the family - apparently three doves per adult and one per child is standard. Slowly but surely they began adding up (the two biggest ones in the center are Eurasians, for reference):

Not all of the shots were perfect. There are harrowing moments while hunting. Read a fantastic article here on chef Andrew Zimmern's website Go Fork Yourself and listen to the podcast featuring new dove hunter Molly Mogren, highlighting the angst such a hunt can invoke. Of course you are taking a life every time you eat fish, meat, or poultry, but a lot of people don't view it that way because of how the killing occurs: Out of sight, out of mind. Speaking only for myself, I think I should have to face facts now and again. I'm happy to share my struggles here, but I did spare you the heaviest of our dramas simply because I was chasing birds down and even fishing one out of a canal rather than filming!

Afterward we went to county-famous Camacho's which was slammed with dove hunters on the season opener. While waiting over an hour for our food, we swapped hunting stories with nearby tables and my eldest daughter drew an imaginary picture of herself dove hunting. When asked if she had any interest in hunting in the future she said that so far, she was on the fence. But she loves shooting.

Next it was time to plan the meal we would enjoy. I have shared my still life painting obsession here and it's borne from the love of seeing a big pile food gathered up before you cook it: all that potential! This is a little of our hunting bounty:

Some of the smaller Mourning doves are best served by the breasting-out technique seen here. If you aren't breasting them out, you can pluck and field-dress them as you would any other bird... but use tiny scissors around the vent!

The result is some amazing-looking meat, as fresh as you will ever find in any farmer's market. ALL of our meat, save the one breast in the bottom left corner below with the obvious pellet hole, was free of any shooting damage. We used 7.5 shot in both our 20-gauge and 12-gauge shotguns and while it did seem on the small side, this benefit was real.

Next is a braising technique for our two whole birds and bone-in breasts as described in the LL Bean Game & Fish cookbook, found here. I bought my barely-used hardcover for $1 with Prime shipping! Amazon is crazy sometimes. 

They were finished in a madeira sauce.

And served! Kids loved it, adults loved it, and next time we figure we'll need about 12 for this family, since there were calls for "more" and I didn't have any. 

Thanks for looking + happy hunting! 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sevengill shark dive

Getting ready for some sevengill fun!

I actually did this dive a couple weeks ago - been wanting to dive with our local sevengills for years but the stars never aligned quite the right way.  Well consider the Sevengill Shark Achievement UNLOCKED because I finally saw a bunch with our friend and underwater photographer extraordinaire, Greg Amptman!

Read more about these amazing sharks here. Watch my video here:

Seen on our paddle back in.  This rubber duckie is tethered to the buoy.

And as always, I love visiting the girls... the La Jolla Cove sea lions never disappoint!

Thanks for looking :)