Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Old Trees and Big Leaves

A few posts ago I mentioned how much I like fall and the colors that accompany this season.  In case you can't remember, I'll give you another iimage of the season.

The other day we were out at a golf course doing a video shoot for some of our product and the leaves were falling around us with every breath of wind that came through the trees.  However, a few of the leaves seemed exceptionally large.

I've never seen leaves that big, at least not from a tree that wasn't a palm tree!  Do these leaves come from a particular species of tree or are they just really old trees which tend to grow larger leaves?  Amazing!

Friday, November 25, 2011

So close, but no deer yet...

Oldest son and I set up a tree stand in the woods behind our house, hoping to take advantage of all the deer we see in our back yard on the edge of the woods.  We know they come out quite a bit because the apple trees we planted last fall have felt the wrath of hungry deer.  Another reason to turn the tables and put the deer ON the table. I wonder if the meat will have a hit of apple flavor?

The Oldest Son and I have taken turns in the tree stand.  He has taken some of the week day evenings since he gets home from school in time to get up in the stand and the hunting time is over by the time I get home from work.  I get the Saturdays and an occasional weekday morning.

Oldest Son in the tree stand with the muzzle loader.

Last Saturday was the first day of shotgun/rifle season in Goochland.  But we are still using the muzzle loader since I feel that we need to get at least one deer with the new gun to make it worth while.

There were quite a few hunters out and about in the woods behind our house so I figured they may push some of the deer towards our house.  Positioned in the tree stand a few hours before closing time for the day, I sat quietly, anxiously awaiting a deer to pass by the tree stand.  Sitting, waiting, sitting quietly, waiting patiently.  Nothing.  Then at about 5pm footsteps could be heard behind me.  I was upwind from the deer and it was to my back, so I could only sit and wait for it to pass by and then try to take a shot.  Unfortunately, what sounded like about 15 feet behind me, the deer spooked, probably smelling me and ran off to my right where I couldn't get turned for a shot.

And that was the end of the day.  I've lost track of how many times Oldest Son has gone out, but I am now 0-4 on my hunting attempts.  No trophy buck is necessary, any deer will do.  A young doe will have better tasting meat anyways.  I have all the training, now I just need an unaware deer.  Do you think there are any of those deer out there?  Time will tell, the season ends January 7th.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

This post is being written Tuesday morning during the 13-1/2 hour of a 14 hour road trip from Virginia to Wisconsin.  We are heading up to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family where I grew up in SE Wisconsin.  The kids have done great and the Good Wife is currently in command of the ship allowing me time to write.

I want to wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving.  We all have so much to be thankful for, particularly if you live in the USA.  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in everything that is going wrong, that we forget about everything that is right.  Take a few minutes and think of everything you are thankful for.  It is a great way to start of this national day of Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's official, I'm a blogger!

Since the blog started, the question in my mind has been how do I know if I have become an official blogger?  Are these musings and stories just for my close friends and family?  Does anyone else out there care?  My blog was given the Liebster Award from another blogger, as recognition of a starting blog that is liked by others.

But the other day I got the ultimate recognition of my official blogging status.  I got a mention in another blog, along with one of my pictures and official recognition of my picture.  And this wasn't just some little blog being run by a teenager from his bedroom.  This is a big time blog!

I'm not sure how I came upon this website several years ago, but the host, Eric Rochow, started doing video blogs of general DIY and cooking stuff.  It was a sort of eclectic mix of topics.  The best part, is that Eric didn't profess to be a trained profession, he was an ordinary guy with a day job that enjoyed showing people, via his videos, how to do things.  Not being a professional, often times his videos were humorous with mistakes that we would surely encounter.  But thanks to Eric leading the way, it was mistakes we could avoid, if we had really been paying attention!  Eric was one of the many inspirations for me to start my blog.  If you are subscribed to his blog, be sure to check it out.  His videos are on iTunes and are a lot of fun to watch, especially the token Labrador Retriever shots.

Back to the topic at hand, my mention on his website.  Following him on Twitter, he mentioned about preparing his bee hives for Hurricane Irene.  I replied to his tweet that I used dog run stakes to hold down my hives with straps during the hurricane.  They easily screwed into the ground and wouldn't come out, no matter how soft the ground got with the rain.  Eric decided to mention my tip in one of his posts.  You have to scroll to the last picture in the post, but there is my picture and my mention.  Validated!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Deer Processing Class

Being the engineer that I am and wanting to gain as much information as possible when learning something new, I took a class on "Deer Processing made Simple" at Nodalski's Butcher Shop, the local butcher in Goochland.  It was put on by the Center for Rural Culture, which according to their website, their mission is to educate, promote and inspire members of our community to sustain a culture that supports agriculture and the local economy, protects natural and historic resources, and maintains our rural character and traditions.  They have some neat programs throughout the year.  The Good Wife is planning to take their wreath making class in December and make our house festive with the small of a fresh wreath.  Ah, the rabbit trails these posts take me on.  Back to the task at hand.

I arrived at Nodalski's in the evening for the 2 hour class hosted by the owner Jonathan Nodalski.  A very friendly man willing to take time out of  his busy schedule to show a dozen people how to get the most out of their deer this fall.

Once we were ready, Jonathan brought out the deer that he would be demonstrating on.  It had been killed earlier in the week and was gutted and skinned already and hanging in the cooler at the butcher shop.

Being presented in this form, it brings more of a domesticated meat look to the deer, waiting to be butchered.  Not exactly how most people do it in the field.  Jonathan stressed that all the same cuts you can get out of a cow for the most part are present in a deer, albeit on a much smaller scale, particularly on the sample deer.

Many of the cuts are laid out on the table and here Jonathan is showing how a roast could be butterflied and then folded over spices and other additional seasonings, and then tied up with butcher twine to be ready for cooking.

It didn't take long for the deer to be full processed.  One of the more humorous points was that Jonathan had a hand saw for making the cuts through the bones.  However, due to the limited class time, and having already put in a full day at the butcher shop, after making a few cuts with the saw he would turn around to his band saw and make quick work of the rest of the bones.

Jonathan is not only a butcher, but also an excellent chef.  As many of the people would throw questions out, Jonathan would give his recommendations on how to prepare the various cuts, not only from what spices or sauces would work well with the cuts, but also how to cook them.

In case this post left you wanting more information and a better written description of the class, you can check out an article at the Powhatan Today website. In the second picture above, the lady in the background is the reporter that wrote the article.  Unfortunately I was blocked in the picture in the Powhatan Today.  I'm in the dark blue shirt right behind Jonathan.  My moment of fame gone!

If you are in the Goochland area and have not been to Nodalski's Butcher Shop I highly recommend it.  During the week he has prepared meals that you can reserve and pick up after work, either already cooked and ready to go or prepared and all you have to do is heat or do the final cooking.  I can personally attest that they are fantastic!  Or if you are looking for some great cuts of meat, Jonathan can take care of whatever you need.  They get a good portion of their meats direct from local farmers that raise their meat naturally without all the hormones and antibiotics.  One day they had Prime Ribeye and the family was out of town, so I went down and got a nice thick cut and went home and put it on the grill.  Best steak I have EVER had!  But that is another post...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fall Colors

In case I haven't mentioned it yet, I love fall, and particularly October and November.  In case you are wondering why...

Need I say more?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

First Deer Hunt

The time had come.  Muzzle loader season had started in VA.  A new CVA Optima was purchased due to the odd rules of Goochland county.  This is the first year that rifles are allowed, and only from a tree stand.  Otherwise, Goochland is a shotgun only county.  However, muzzle loaders are allowed during a separate muzzle loader season between bow and shotgun season, and they can be used during shotgun season, so that seemed like the right weapon to buy.

After getting dressed in my fairly new hunting gear, I headed over to one of our friends that was going to guide me on my first deer hunt.  He had already set up a couple tree stands behind another friend's house.  We headed out in the afternoon and got up in our stands by 4:30pm.  We sat quietly waiting for a deer to come strolling through.  It was a good spot next to a stream and a couple large deer had already been taken on this lot.

After two hours of sitting still and enjoying nature, darkness descended and hunting was over for the day.  We saw more hunters than deer as it was opening day of muzzle loader season.   I'll have to wait until next weekend to give it another try.  Hopefully we'll be more successful and be able to put some natural venison into our freezer.  Although it wasn't a successful day as far as bagging some game, it was still fun and I am looking forward to giving it another try soon.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pumpkin Time

October is pumpkin time.  So off we went and headed up to Carter Mountain Orchard.  Not only do they have great apples, they also pumpkins this time of year and a whole lot of festival every weekend.  It took us about 45 minutes to get up the road to the orchard, but parking was quick and they really know how to process a lot of people.  

After the three sons each picked a pumpkin, we picked a few apples, bought an apple cider slushy for each of us, and a dozen apple sauce doughnuts.  Being gastronomically satisfied, we headed home.  

First step is to cut open the top and get the guts out.  We weren't prepared to roast the seeds like we have in the past, so the Good Wife figured the chickens and guinea would enjoy the spoils of their work.

The initial processing took place down by the Chicken Condo and Guinea Ghetto so the ladies wouldn't have to go far from home to get the goods.  It took a couple days to finish it all, but they seemed to really enjoy the pumpkin inners.

Once the inside was cleaned out, each of the boys sat down to work their artistic magic on their pumpkins.

Oldest son went for a traditional face.  The triangle eyes and the fanged smile looking back at him as he worked his magic.

Middle Son used sticks on the sides to add arms to his pumpkin.  He made a traditional face on one side and a more modern robot face on the other side.

Youngest son went to work and cut multiple face on the his pumpkin, if you can call them faces.  There were eyes, a mouth and what appeared to be a lot of extra wounds on the pumpkin face.  I guess he was going for the scary look with his pumpkin.

For some reason a final photo was never taken of the pumpkins.  They are still on the patio to enhance our fall atmosphere, but they are slightly wrinkled and somewhat compressed as they have not handled the heat of the midday sun very well.  Carving pumpkins is a fond memory of mine growing up, and I hope it passes down to my boys.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Deer Hunting

Living in the country, the Oldest Son has several friends that do a lot of hunting, and particularly deer hunting.  Since I grew up in a family that didn't really do any hunting, it isn't something that I am able to pass on to my sons.  But Oldest Son requested that we go deer hunting.  So where to start?

First was the hunters safety course.  Since I had never had a hunting license, I needed to take the class with Oldest Son to get my license.  For the record, Oldest Son only got one question wrong on his test, and his father still did better!  Now we were licensed and ready to hunt, but the season hadn't started yet.

Virginia has a youth hunt day before the regular season starts where anyone with a license between 12-15 years old can take any deer on one day.  Oldest Son went with some friends to their cabin to give it a try, but didn't see any deer that day.

Several friends we have made here in VA go deer hunting, and several were more than willing to take us out and show us the ropes.  But being an engineer, I like to get some hands on instruction before being set loose in the woods.  Too many things can go wrong and I wanted to be sure that I was prepared.  So it seemed appropriate that a class was in order.  Luckily for me, Jackson Landers teaches a class up in Charlottesville.  This is a two day, hands on class that goes through hunting tactics, shooting range experience with various caliber rifles, actual hands on butchering of a deer, and cooking of the deer that the class butchers.

WARNING - The below photos may be graphic to people that are not used to hunting or butchering animals!

There was a surprise snow storm up in the hills west of Charlottesville on the Saturday that we were at the rifle range.  We went up to a public range in the George Washington National Forest southwest of Staunton.

The trees were still in color, the grass was green and the slow was covering the ground.  This made for some postcard photos, and a cold day at the range.

It turned out to be a cold day, but the sun was out and our minds were more on the range than the weather.  We got to shoot all sorts of rifles, including .30-06, .30-30, .270 Winchester, .22 and .308 among others.  Not sure what other calibers were there, as these were the main ones that I tried.  We started with a .22 out a 25 and 50 yards, then moved onto the higher power rifles at 100 yards.  At the end, a few clay disks were stuck out at 150 yards.  Jackson had a new hunting knife as a trophy for whoever could hit one of the clay targets in the fewest shots.  One guy hit it on one shot.  My first shot I anticipated, and pulled it to the side.  My next shot was dead on.  One shot too late.

The next day was butchering after some more class time.  One of the additional instructors, Fergus Clare, got a fallow deer from a deer farm.  Unfortunately, the deer farm will be closing this year, so Jackson will only be having two more classes this year.

Everyone in the class got a hand in skinning the deer.  It was done in a worst case scenario on the ground, without hanging the deer in a tree.  He told us that if we could process a deer on the ground, we could do it anywhere.

Everyone took turns as Jackson and Fergus showed us what to do.  I got to cut off a quarter and take out a backstrap, along with assisting in the skinning.

Interestingly, there was a lady filming our class as she is working on a documentary on Jackson.  We'll have to wait and see if any of us in the class move on to become a star.  Although one of the students is an actor, I'm not sure if this class would help his career.  Surprisingly, she stuck right there with everything as we processed the deer.

This class is geared towards adults that want to start hunting deer.  It has appealed to the slow food and locavore movement, where people are wanting to take responsibility for where their food comes from and have meat that is not stuffed with hormones and antibiotics.  A wild whitetail deer is as free-range and natural as it gets.  This class showed us how to use all parts of the deer.  As you can see below, by the time we were done, there wasn't much left of the deer.

Now that the deer was processed in the field, it was time to head to the kitchen.  Jackson showed us how to clean up the cuts of meat and how to get a much meat as possible from the deer for consumption, including grinding the lesser bits for use in things such as tacos, etc.

We started out with a few medallions pan seared with some olive oil and salt and pepper and some fresh thyme.  Then it was on to the backstrap with some butter, salt, pepper and thyme.

Backstrap being prepared for cooking.

The hind quarters were then cut up to show us how to get the most out of that portion of the deer.  For being a smaller doe, it did provide quite a bit of meat.

The meat was delicious.  We talked a bit about the misconception of the "gamey" taste of venison.  That is due to the poor handling of the meat between the death of the deer and getting the meat into the freezer.  Picture Bubba driving around town with his deer tied on the hood of the truck over the hot engine for a few hours showing all his friends his prize buck.  If handled properly, you can not even tell the difference in the taste of the meat from very lean beef.  The meat that we ate was incredibly tasty.

I can't say enough about this class.  It gave me the confidence to go out and try to take a deer by myself, although I hope to go with one of my experienced friends at first, just to have the backup assistance if things go wrong.  This will be something now that I can pass on to Oldest Son and later Middle Son and Youngest Son if they have the interest.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

China Trip Recap

My apologies for going silent for a bit.  A trip to China for two weeks interrupted my flow and kept me busy once I got back home.  Several of the last posts were done ahead of time and posts while I was gone, since China does not allow internet access to Blogger.  Before my posts get back to the usual items of the Haphazard Countryman's life, I wanted to go over a few items from my recent trip to China.  If you follow me on Twitter, DWAinAZ, you would have seen most of these items already.  (I realize my Twitter name refers to being in Arizona, but the account was started before I moved to VA.

After arriving in China at my hotel, I like to make a quick trip to the store to get some snacks.  My favorites are Pringles.  However, while there, I like to take a look at the other available flavors of potato chips.

Like "Finger Licking Braised Pork Flavor" or "Black Pepper Rib Eye Steak Flavor".  

And my favorite, "Numb & Spicy Hot Pot Flavor".  Not sure exactly what this would taste like as I wasn't feeling too brave at the time.

When you arrive at a factory to see how your production is going, you never want to see what I saw below.

Fortunately, that was our product flying part way down the makeshift slide before falling off and impacting on the ground!

Do you ever wonder what happens to all the manufacturing equipment in the US once they change the format, such as for soda cans?  Remember the old pull tabs that you would fully remove from the can and then stick back into the can.  Parents always warned you not to swallow the tab.  Answer found, they ship everything to China and they use it.

While in the airport, waiting for a flight in one of the lounges, there was a machine called the Popcake.  It was push button service for pancakes.  The photo below was taken so I could make fun of the machine.

Push the button for how many pancakes you want, and out the pop on the right side, dropping right down on the stack of plates.  They are Made in the USA.  No wonder the trade deficit is out of balance so severely if we are relying on this machine!  

However, after trying a couple, and going back for seconds, I can't complain.  They are really good!  I wish we had one of these machines in our office at work!

The Chinese also seem to be more efficient at using their resources.  Such as getting new cars to market.  In the USA, it is one row of cars stacked on top of another row of cars and shipped to market.  In China they are able to stick two rows of cars on top.

And the last bottom van was hanging halfway out the back of the truck.  Not sure this would fly in the USA.

On the way back, I flew through Beijing.  That is one polluted city.  The picture below is from the airplane on the way down into Beijing.  It was mid-afternoon and by the time we landed, it was dark and the lights were on all over. 

Once the sun gets down at any angle, it gets dark fast due to the sun not making it through the clouds.  This always makes it good to be home.

Now back to my home and the chickens, bees and deer hunting.  Yes, you read that right.  Keep following to see what I have gotten myself into now.